(continued from Part I)
Kelle has more than impressed me with her photography. I especially appreciate the subtle adjustments she makes with the lens to focus on one element and send all the rest into an ambient blur. So it was when I stepped into the birthing room. Moments ago it was filled with such abandon and joy. Now it seemed so still. The only thing in focus to me was my daughter’s face as she held our new gift, amplified by the echo of the nurse’s words “She wants her dad.” Everything and everyone else slipped into a blur. The glisten in her eyes told me there were tears. And she wore a smile…not the smile I so often saw on this happy soul. No, this was the smile reminiscent of the little girl years ago who tried to muster a smile after a deep hurt. This was a pained smile. The smile was for me; the pain was for us all.
Her voice, as she began the six words that would forever change our lives,
was apologetic…almost an appeal. An appeal to accept, to love, to receive.
“They think she has Down syndrome….” were her words—no softening preface, no commentary after…just fading down to the smile still sending its plea to accept the news and the sweet one she was snuggling close. While something within me wanted to cry to the heavens, “No….” a softer yet stronger voice simply said, “Well, we love her…she’s our gift.”
Other words were spoken, I am sure, but I don’t remember them. I was reordering myself—walking around in my mind, looking for doors to be opened, finding them only in my heart. I just wanted to hold my baby and have everyone else go away. I wanted to begin to feel what this was and where we were going. And then I heard my daughter’s voice again, as she lifted Nella toward me, asking, “Can you pray?” And my throat suddenly burned as my arms moved without thought to cradle this little one who fit so beautifully in them. And I suddenly just wanted to thank God for her…for all of her…for what we knew and what we didn’t know. And I wonder if gratitude is the uniformed doorman of the heart needing to be healed. I do know tears must improve vision, for Nella looked even more beautiful through my weeping eyes.
I am not sure when or how I arrived back there, but I stepped back into the corridor. Kelle had asked me to call Brett’s Dad and Donna Nana and tell them…she wasn’t sure Brett could quite yet. And she wanted me to call all my family, tell them and ask them to pray. She wanted everyone in the corridor to know…now.
Like tidewaters fingering up the beach, the news spread. Words were shared, tears were released and friends connected in embrace all down the corridor. These beautiful friends—who moments ago looked like a casting call for Sex and the City as they crowded into Kelle’s room—now cared nothing about running mascara or those really face-distorting sobs. All this, I thought, was Nella’s welcoming embrace…it was her first glimpse of her loving “family.” It was good.
Brett joined us in the corridor. Strong, sure and solid, he had been Kelle’s rock in the birthing room. His first question there, after hearing the pediatrician, Dr. Foley’s strong suspicion, was to ask, “Well, we can take her home can’t we?” That is classic Brett. Home is his Command Central. It is “The Bridge” of his USS Enterprise. It is where he sets his strategies for life and solves his problems. He needed to get his baby home and all would fall into place. But for the moment, he needed the corridor. I remember seeing him and Poppa Gary—two non-criers, holding each other and actually shaking as they wept…no words, no consoling comments, just shared tears between silent souls. Weeping in a safe corridor. The embrace of tears ended without a sound. The two stepped apart and Brett spoke. They weren’t profound words about destiny and accepting the challenges of life. They were practical words about a decision to stay the course of celebration and welcome a present that was present:
“We need more champagne…more people are coming" (he knew the rescuing troops would quickly be deployed). Wise words. Good plan.
And then he broke my heart. I don’t know why his simple words and daddy plans caught me off guard, but they did. Maybe it was the timing. Maybe it was the wounded-soldier-struggling-to-raise-the-flag image I seemed to see. Maybe it was how very important this was to him. In these first moments of life after Nella, Brett asked Gary to look for one of those big pink stork lawn signs used to announce a baby’s arrival—as big as he could find. He wanted it on his lawn. He wanted it there soon. And pink balloons when Nella came home. Lots of them. This is so Brett. This is why I love him so.
From there, it was in and out of the corridor to the room where Kelle and Nella were. No one told us to close the door between. We just did. We did because we needed it closed—we needed our backstage. It was where Kelle’s friends cried. It was where secret strategies of support were arranged. It was where honest cell phone conversations were connected and we could say words and express feelings we couldn’t yet in that room. It was where we could be broken and be put back together. It was where we could greet the just-arriving, receive them in our arms and send them into the room and onto the stage.
And then…after some time and what seemed a hundred friends’ arrival later— about the time a quick transfer to a post-partum room upstairs was to be made—it seemed we were done with the corridor. We didn’t need it any more. What was happening IN the room seemed real and even relaxed now. Oh, there would be new arrivals still and there would be tearful reunions, but the two realms seemed to be blending like dawn blends night and day. Nella’s world now knew. The champagne run had been made. And a very large pink stork was on its way to the yard of a very pretty little girl and her new family. She was here now—and her little loveliness was even seeping into the corridor.
As I helped those who were enlisted to pack up the bags and bundles of the very well-planned Welcome Nella Celebration onto wheelchairs and shelved carts for the move upstairs, I watched Kelle take one last look at the birthing room that brought her more than a baby. I followed the parade to the elevator and, before boarding turned for my own farewell glimpse—of the corridor. Yes, we were now done with the corridor—with its little alcove where I had paced while talking on my cell phone to Brett’s dad and my family, with its tiled floor where I saw Jeff and Heidi, hugging, slumped and weeping and then on their phone to help fly Kelle’s sister down and with its long window where I saw dads and grandparents I didn’t know greet friends they did with laughter and levity. Yes, I was leaving our consoling corridor and it was ok. Even the little lighted arrow on the button by the elevator reminded me...we were going up.
Once again, I am brought back to that evening and the pain becomes more beautiful every time I go there. If I could go through that evening again--even the rawest, most painful parts--I would, in a heartbeat. It changed me and, in the end, we get Nella. How cool. Thank you, Dad. I love you. Yes, Up we go. Can't wait to see the view from the 31st floor.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I asked my dad awhile ago to write what happened throughout Nella's birth from his account. I wanted to know what happened behind the doors of that beautiful room where our girl was welcomed. I am told many different stories from the friends and family that gathered there before they entered our room.
He finally did it...wrote it all down and sent me the first part last night. And I, with tears, read it and remembered all the love.
This is his account.
If you have ever been in theatre, you can draw from your memory…the backstage. It is awfully real. It is filled with the props and backdrops of all the theatre that has occurred and will occur…on stage. It is the antithesis of the other side of the velvet curtains. It is comfortably unkempt. It is gritty and unmagical, honest and blemished. It is raw. It is where the last minute checks of the tattered script are made. It is where we ask each other how we look and turn to have another once-over of our costume. It is where we cough and clear our throats away from the audience and rehearse again our memorized lines. It is where our expressions can be flat and faces sour until we step on stage where, with exaggerated smiles and pumped up expressions we project with rich resonance our character voice.
Such was the first floor corridor of The Birthing Center of Naples Community Hospital on the evening of January twenty-second, two thousand and ten. It was our backstage, our barrier reef, our solace in the storm.
The corridor was first just the space we quickly walked through to enter the anticipated enchantment of an already loved baby’s debut. I remember arriving. I was wearing my black polo shirt on which I had carefully iron-appliquéd POPPA in rhinestones.
Silly me, I had brought my Nikon D40, knowing it would be like a child’s play camera in comparison to the equipment of the pretty-girl paparazzi I knew would be in the room. My heart was skipping beats and I was the usual close-to-tears I generally am when in those intensely wonderful moments with my children. I had never actually witnessed the birth of a grandchild and was only here at the insistence of my Kelle-girl. I would be positioning myself carefully…
to be there for the first glimpses of the baby out-of-the-chute…with the operative timing and visual perspective being “out-of-the-chute.”
There was a festive mood in the room, with that rapid cadence conversation of gal-pals, punctuated by laughter and all appearing like a music video with the music in the background being the steady underwater sound of a baby’s heartbeat on the fetal monitor. The room was filled with the signs of preparation…the little favors awaiting first guests, hand lettered champagne toast glasses, small flameless candles and music subtly competing with the din.
Things began to move quickly, like planets aligning for some cosmic event. I saw the bed broken down and stirrup braces suddenly emerge. The obstetrician and nurses stepped into position. Paper sheets like sails unfurled. Faces and friends, like guests at a wedding awaiting the bride’s entrance, formed an arc around my daughter. I was deeply moved with the welcome assembled for my new and precious granddaughter whose name I already knew and was whispering in my heart.
Swiftly she arrived. Almost instantly we heard her little voice. Just before she stepped into the world, I had called my niece and Kelle’s kindred cousin, Joann, on my cell phone and she was, in Michigan, part of that circle hearing Nella’s first sweet Hello!
Ooohs and ahhs spread like a wave around the room. With everyone’s “She’s so cute!” and “She’s beautiful!” the resounding message, I remember being almost annoyed with Kelle’s sober, “Is she alright? Her nose looks smooshed.” I quickly assured her she was just fine, and had my answer amended by Katie, the nurse, who explained something about a posterior birth and that, yes, her nose might appear a little flattened but it would pop up with time. Only then did I even see anything but a perfect little nose—which incidentally did pop up with time. Kelle’s queries would continue.
It was probably thirty minutes of jubilant and detailed birth reviews later that it was announced Dr. Foley was here and would now do the new baby examination. It was then, we would be directed to…the corridor. Still light and laughing, we stepped out one by one…like a team that was winning taking a break to the locker room. I can recall hearing Kelle ask Dot, the nurse, as I walked away, “Why is Dr. Foley here? Did you call her in? Is everything alright?”
By then, we were in the corridor. We positioned ourselves all over. Excited reviews of how swift and smooth the delivery was were shared. I-phones seemed in every hand, as the glad news was called out and texted. I remember being amazed that there were more in this amazing circle of friends than were in the room…and they were all awaiting word.
I don’t know when the corridor boredom turned to worry. I don’t know how long we were there. Working in a hospital, I began to be concerned. I could hear nothing through the heavy wooden fire door that separated the birthing room and my babies from…the corridor. It seemed too long. It seemed too quiet. I later would learn that others in the corridor were watching me. My face was telling.
I didn’t have many moments to wrestle with worry in the corridor. I heard the heavy latch release and saw the door open and my eyes…all eyes…met with the somber face of the nurse I knew least. Her voice had a faint tone of sadness. While her words were few, they spoke volumes…of a chapter we did not want to open. She simply said... “She wants her dad.”
The rest of his account coming tomorrow.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I spent the morning with my firstborn today. Left Nella snuggled in her pink kitten jammies right next to her Daddy under a mess of tangled sheets while the bigger girl and I snuck off to the bathroom to get ready for our date. She stood on the stool next to me and glossed her lips while I brushed my teeth and twisted my wet hair into a ponytail.
I've missed this. Sure, there are myriads of moments where we're together, but sometimes I'm turning the pages of The Wide Mouthed Frog while simultaneously balancing a baby. And, in the middle of a puzzle with her the other day, I jumped up to calm a startled Nella. "No, her not crying," Lainey said as if her denial would convince me to stay and play.
I thought I'd be really good at this when I was pregnant. I had rehearsed every possible situation with balancing two and had a plan of action. We were going to have Lainey & Me dates weekly. We were going to be aware of all jealous cues and fire planned responses to fix them. We were going to take our love and carefully divvy it up in perfect equal portions, no more, no less.
Unfortunately, life doesn't offer the Perfectly Planned option. In the ebb & flow of our home's activities, there have been days where Lainey is rained upon with praise and puzzles and baking and book-reading and others where I've actually uttered the words, "Not now, Babe, Nella needs me" as if her needing me wasn't as meritable.
And then there are days like today when I give her my undivided attention and we dress up and sing made-up "We're going on a date" songs in the car. When there's only one carseat to buckle and one face to focus on in the rearview mirror.
We started at the bookstore where we spent most of our time riding the escalator or, as she calls it, the "up-down." You would have thought we were at a theme park. She held her breath and smiled and jumped off at the end with a "wheeeeee," and suddenly, I too was feeling the exhileration. We read books and sorted the stuffed animal shelves and finished our visit with a red velvet cupcake with a thick swirl of heavenly cream cheese frosting.
It felt good to be back in the swing of things, to know that life being altered a bit doesn't change everything and there are so many more of these dates--with both my girls--to come.
We continued our morning together at a local produce market where she picked out small potatoes for Daddy and I added shallots and garlic and a big, fat, dirt-covered onion that together tasted amazing in a pan of sizzling butter tonight.
She stole a strawberry before I noticed half of it oozing down her chin.
Finally, it was back home where we spent the rest of the morning hurdling streams of cold sprinkler water outside where the sun calmed us and the sight of my happy girl not only reminded me of every sweet memory we've shared so far in this yard but excited me of all the ones to come.
Then multiply that excitement times two.
Nella joined us outside for a shady nap and, after a good dose of one-on-one time with the big sister, I felt content and happy to share the afternoon loving my girls as perfectly as I know how. And, although it was soon followed with dangling a hungry ten-pound girl in one arm and a thrashing almost-three-year old in the other while I dodged sprinkler sprays to head in for naps, it still felt, might I say, balanced.
The scales will, I'm sure, tip again soon and teeter between too much and too little, but days like these will return and restore the balance of just enough love...and then some.
And this little kitten?
The sound of our voices excites her so much, she gets all breathy and wide-eyed and worked up when she hears us, batting the air like little Karate Kid. She stretches her hands to touch Brett's face when he holds her close, and when I feed her, she reaches up and wraps her fingers around mine in the most tender grasp. Love Machine.
Her most favorite spot in the world? Pressed up against Brett's chest. The girl goes into a total love trance and, well, so does Brett.
And, speaking of Karate Kid, she's a black belt in tummy time, conquering the head lift with our applause...and a smile.
Brett approaches Tummy Time like he's a marathon coach, clocking it and coaxing her through it. And he drills me at the end of the day..."How much Tummy Time did she have today?" I'm scared of what would happen if I answered "none." Dude means business.
On our way to some friends' house the other night, Brett & I were debating NY vs. Chicago style pizza, completely oblivious to the silence in the back seat when Brett finally says, "Do you smell that? Smells like nail polish." Turns out Lainey packed some in her backpack and was having a little car manicure session, awkwardly bending over the straps in her carseat to reach her toes.
And her lips were all plastered with this frosty pink too. I looked in her bag to find Merle Norman. Girl was packin' some serious make-up.
She never fails to make us laugh.
Bed awaits again and, although I've worded it a million different ways, I can't express how welcoming it is at the end of the day to crawl into our monster of a bed and glide into soft sheets, wedging my side next to my little willow and pulling the weight of my bunny into my chest. It is both the celebration of a good day or the reward to a trying one--to conclude a day's worth of work nestled between what matters most. To listen to midnight rains between the comfort of warm bodies, to hear Brett's heavy breath over the quicker, shallow ones of the girls and to close my eyes knowing we get to do it all over again tomorrow.
That's just completely delicious.
You might as well get used to little bunny smiles...they're happening all the time.
Several readers asked about the photos on our family wall a couple posts back. I actually got the idea of the photo wall from another photographer...but it's simple and affordable. They are 16x20 prints framed in glass clip "frameless" frames (I got mine $5 each from Ikea, but they are also available at Michael's or Joann's for a little more).
Sunday, April 25, 2010
I didn't always love where I live. Crazy, I know. Sandy beaches, blue skies, palm trees...totally blows, eh?
I used to crave for something different. The mountains of Colorado. The culture of Boston. The crazy fun of Chicago. The cool hippy vibe of places like Austin or Ashville.
I am learning though, as I grow, to look for the beauty of where I am. It might not be what I expected, but it's where I landed, and I can rock it out. (Theme of the year, anyone?)
My dad always says to be a thermostat and not a thermometer. Thermometers only measure the temperatures around them. Thermostats change them.
So, while I used to think this town could be a little hoity-toity, a little frowning on public breastfeeding, a little I-can't-believe-you-sit-in-lawnchairs-in-your-driveway-and-watch-your-kid-run-barefoot-for-two-hours, I own it now. I love where I live for its beauty, its sunshine, its four-minute-drive-to-the-beach. And the stuff I don't so much like? I'll change.
We live in a beautiful city. It's small enough to bump into neighbors in the produce aisle at the grocery store and yet big enough to offer cheap t-shirts with Naples slapped across palm tree decals. Our skies are blue, our air is kissed with sea salt, and our highway medians are peppered with palm trees. This past year, I've met so many wonderful people in this town--people who dig public breastfeeding. People who join us in the driveway while we, together, watch our barefoot kids trace bodies with sidewalk chalk and stain the cement with melted chocolate from the ice cream sandwiches they've failed to finish.
I've completely fallen in love with where I live this year. And I own it.
Yesterday, we spent the day at the beach with friends.
And as I sat and watched kids dodge white-capped waves and Lainey change into the fourth bathing suit of the day, I thought once again how the grass may be greener on the other side but our skies are still bluer.
My friend Julie whose twins, Cash & Rocco, are only a week older than Nella.
The babies enjoyed intertwining their feet in a make-shift rattan chair playpen.
...and while I did my share of lovin' my beach babies and catching up on some reading...
...I forgot to apply sunblock to my shins. And now they are burnt. And I learned my lesson.
And because I love, love, love my new retro suit and I found a cool boutique in Oregon that specializes in retro swimwear just like it (can't wait to get this one) along with Portland swimwear, I'll share a little discount. Pamela, who designs the Popina line herself, has offered to give a 15% discount to all readers. Type in the coupon code "kelle" at check-out.
Watch out, Esther Williams.
Sunny days to come. I love where I am right now.
(and thanks to the comment suggesting the Sim Redmund Band!)