Family

A new, magical sort of love

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Photo credit: Boundless Love Photography

Today is our due date- the day I am expected to deliver our first child. I am no longer pregnant, though. Our son arrived 6.5 weeks ago, bringing an abrupt end to that chapter of our lives. I find myself contemplating this day as I sit here in my pajamas, looking down at my beautiful, healthy son; and I know how lucky I am. I have discovered the most perfect love in the tiniest package, dressed with long eyelashes and tiny fingers and toes, a belly button and button nose. I am so lucky.

And yet today feels so complicated to me. It is the intended end of a fascinating, humbling, exhausting, and empowering chapter of my life: a pregnancy that came and went, challenging me physically, emotionally, spiritually; and taking my breath away. I did not find pregnancy to be a magical experience, despite awareness of how lucky I was and despite the surprise that my little body could successfully grow a human. When it ended early, however, I found this sense of loss among the emotional debris, this sense of failure.

Medically speaking, there is nothing I could have done. Preterm rupture of membranes occurs in a small percentage of pregnancies, for which there is often no clear medical explanation after the fact. A healthy pregnancy ends in a healthy woman, and a healthy baby is born early. Modern medicine then comes in and attempts to support that baby’s final development to make up for the loss of time in the womb. All the steroids and warm isolettes, professional and compassionate neonatologists and NICU nurses, vitamin supplements and intravenous nutrition that modern medicine offers, however, still cannot do what my body was built to do. And for that, my dear child, I am so sorry.

I am sorry that I stopped protecting you, sharing my body with you in all the ways you needed to set you up for a healthy life, with strong lungs and bones, fat to keep you warm through all the cold diaper changes of life, immunity from all the nasty floating through the world, and a couple more months of peace and quiet. Our final weeks were stolen from us, leaving us to navigate the transition earlier than you were ready to, than either of us were ready to.

But here you are- perfect and strong and growing, doing all your baby things. We have never been more proud of a set of bowels, amazed by the growth of fingernails, or more in love. You’ve introduced us to a fascinating new sort of love: one that transcends fear and time, exhaustion and social niceties. I may spend my life unable to thank you for the tremendous love you’ve brought into my life, the new sense of purpose, the sweet snuggles and smiles that make me want to stop the clock from ticking, to stay with you forever in those moments. Thank you, my son. You may never know how deeply I love you, but I thank you for the opportunity to spend the rest of my life showing you.

I could write you a book already, documenting the story of you, of us, and how we all came to know each other. I’ll have to be brief, though, because your slumber is short.

If magic is real, then I witnessed it myself, watching you grow from a tiny seed into the goldfish that swam inside me, inside the body I never believed could support you. It was quite a humbling experience, watching my body transform to create life and support the development of such a perfect little being. Most of my life I have looked at my body as weak, less capable. I always imagined pregnancy would be an unlikely, and potentially dangerous endeavor for me. Discovering that, on the contrary, I was built for this miraculous enterprise was an inspiring and empowering experience. Uncomfortable, of course, but fascinating. Feeling you grow and swim around inside me, falling in love with you at each turn, is an experience for which I’ll be forever grateful.

If magic is real, I witnessed it in your dad, watching him grow from husband to father in an instant. I suppose there was more build-up to it than that, but it felt a bit like watching the sun come up one morning to reveal an entirely new world. I have loved your dad in progressive increments since the moment I saw him in his white uniform walking past me at a debate tournament in 2007. I have known that our love was special since its inception, but I never understood the depth of its power until now. That love wrote the blueprints for you, breathed life into you, and catapulted you into our lives.

Your dad was so clear from the very beginning that he was ready for you. When I was scared, worried that we couldn’t be ready yet to be good parents, he was confident. When I was feeling sick and weak, my belly growing and my bones tired, your dad cooked dinner, researched strollers, and flew fancy cake in from Palm Springs. When I fainted, your dad caught us, and assured me everything would be ok. When I couldn’t find a name that described you, your kind soul and your resilience, your dad created a list of names. When I went into labor, your dad put the car seat in the car, packed our hospital bag, and navigated our way to the hospital we’d never seen before, even though he didn’t believe any of that was yet necessary.

When the nurse informed us that we wouldn’t be leaving the hospital without you, I saw a fear in your dad’s eyes that I’d never seen before. Your dad isn’t afraid of anything. In fact, he has been trained to handle crises, to stay calm and collected, to always be prepared to land the plane safely, no matter how many engines go out. That fear stayed there until we were all ok, reunited in the hospital days later. But your dad stood by us, monitoring our vitals, holding my hand (and later yours), afraid for our safety but determined to get us through this.

Things got scary for a bit- my body was ready to release you into the world no matter how hard the nurses tried to keep you inside me. Our doctor was on vacation, and the backup doctors weren’t ready for the operation. Your somersaults inside me had left you in a position too dangerous for you to arrive the normal route, so the doctors had to come get you. The operation was scary for everyone, as the various drugs they gave me sent our vitals in all directions, the anesthesia gave me an allergic reaction, and you got stuck in my belly.

That’s when I realized that if magic is real, it’s in you, in your strength and resilience, the light in your eyes. After such a traumatic entrance into the world, it took you a while to breathe on your own. As the doctors prepared to rush you to the NICU, they decided to let us meet for the first time, placing you on my chest in the operating room, wrapped up in a blanket. You were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and in the midst of all the medical chaos, I reached out to touch your face and you touched mine. You finally took a breath, and everything was suddenly okay. In those 15 seconds, time stopped and the three of us became a family.

They took you away then, but a part of me stayed behind in that moment, strapped to that table under the lights, looking at you for the first time.

The doctors decided that you needed more help than the hospital could provide, and took you in an ambulance to another hospital with a more advanced NICU. They brought you to my room in your traveling isolette just long enough to say goodbye. Dad followed the ambulance and then stayed at your side all night and the following day in the new hospital, while I worked to convince the hospital to let me go after my operation so we could be together again. It felt so unnatural to be away from you for the first time in almost eight months, but I knew you were safe and that Dad was there to protect you.

I left the hospital as soon as I could, and it was such a relief to be reunited at your bedside and finally hold you in my arms. We learned so much about you over those three weeks in the NICU. You showed us how strong you are, and how lucky we are that you chose us to be your parents. I imagine I’ll spend the rest of my life contemplating the magic in you, and trying to deserve the love you brought into our lives that day.

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Categories: Family, Marriage, Our Story, Pregnancy | Leave a comment

Home

Home is a funny concept. For (I’d venture to say) most people, it is fairly simple. For everyone, it is ideally a significant source of comfort and identity; a collage of memories of time, place, and people which centers you. Home gives you a sense of who you are and who you’ve been, maybe even who you’ll be. It encases a world that is purely yours. For much of my life, home has been quite complicated.

My first home was in New Jersey, although I have no memory of it, as we moved to Virginia when I was an (adorable) two-year-old. My parents bought a house in the suburbs, where I lived for the next 13 years. In that house, I lived the happiest of childhoods: wrestling as Pokemon characters with my father and younger brother; playing with frogs at the creek behind our yard; and having Easter egg hunts, trick-or-treating, and waging stink-bomb wars with the neighborhood children. When I was 11, my parents decided to separate, and I’ll never forget the time they sat us down on our old couch to give us the news.

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After that moment, home became more complex. My mother moved out and into a fairly rough apartment complex in the city. In the afternoons after school and weekend days we spent with her, I came to love it there. I remember my father’s reaction when I told him that I didn’t have a home anymore, since I now had two houses, each with one of my parents. Nonetheless, we made new memories in our new home and our old one. While I was introduced to violence, racism, and poverty in that apartment complex, my experience there imprinted me in a way I cannot separate from who I am today.

A few years later, as a freshman in high school, I watched both of my parents remarry. My mother moved in with her new husband and my brother and I struggled to feel at home in his house, despite his initial attempts to welcome us. My father then moved with my stepmother into a beautiful log-cabin style house on a dirt road in the outskirts of town. Neither place really felt like home, or at least they don’t now, as I look back on what was only a few years of my life. Those houses didn’t last long, as my mother divorced her second husband, and my father and stepmother moved yet again; this time into a bigger house with more land to suit their growing family (I now have two beautiful half-sisters).

Within the next few years, my Dad dropped me off at the University of Mary Washington, my new home for the next 4 years. In that time, I met some amazing people and learned a lot about myself. I survived living in a house with 5 other women, and made some incredible memories with them on our picturesque campus. A little over an hour away from my hometown, I was able to develop my independence while still being close enough to home to come and visit over the holidays.

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While traveling with the debate team in college, I met my husband. I knew that he was a big deal, but I had no idea that he would change my life as I knew it. After graduating from UMW, I moved with Casey to Pensacola, FL. Saying goodbye to my family and friends was really difficult, but I was excited about the adventures Casey and I had in store for us.

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In our 900- square foot home in Pensacola, Casey and I learned a lot about each other. Within a few months of living there, the Marine Corps promptly sent Casey to San Diego for a temporary assignment while he was awaiting flight school. I have never cried the way I did when I put Casey on that plane out of Pensacola, as for the first time in my life, I was entirely alone. Except for Barley, our 4-month-old beagle mix, I did not know anyone in that part of the country. I had to learn to get around the city, find a job, and start a life on my own.  Barley and I enjoyed walks along the bayou each night, and I came to love our new little home. Within weeks I found a job and was on my way to independence. When Casey came home, I felt complete. Then we moved again.

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After 9 months in Pensacola, we moved an hour north to Milton, Florida. We adjusted quickly to our new home, painting and unpacking in record time. Barley loved his new backyard, and we adopted our cat from beneath a dumpster near the house. After another 9 months, it was time to pick up and move again. Casey and I got engaged, and then headed to Texas! We spent the next year in Corpus Christi, where we planned our wedding, bought cowboy boots, got married, and then prepared for our move across the world! Corpus Christi never really felt like home to us, as we did not plan to be there long and Casey moved to North Carolina for training during our time there. While I came to enjoy parts of living in Texas, it always felt like a place in between homes (although it will always be the place where Casey and I said our wedding vows).

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After 6 months apart, Casey in NC and I in Texas, we were reunited right before we picked up and moved across the world: to Okinawa, Japan. In our concrete tower apartment on a military base, we have adjusted to life overseas, with Casey traveling the world while I hold down the fort at home. Making Okinawa home has not been easy. There is no Target to run to when I need affordable window treatments, and I can’t just pick up the phone to call family back in the states. After about 6 months of life overseas, I started to feel like I needed more, that I was missing out on all the action back in America. Fortunately, I had the perfect opportunity to come back to the states, as 2 of my best friends were getting married.

A month ago, I boarded a big plane in Naha and headed for home. America. I’ve seen about half of my favorite people in the world, eaten at all the requisite American restaurants, enjoying such quintessential comfort foods as sweet tea, Vermont maple syrup, potato salad, and black bean soup in a bread bowl at Panera (about 10 times). I’ve been to Target, Old Navy, Walmart, Michael’s, PetSmart, H&M, you name it. I’ve spent time in Vermont, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Needless to say, it has been a busy month.

I stopped by the last home I lived in with my family, and felt empty when I saw someone else’s car in the driveway. I walked around the campus at Mary Washington, and realized that I’m not the only one who’s changed. My hometown, Richmond, is not the same place it once was. While I have enjoyed my time here, spent with the people I love, I have realized how lucky I am. I miss my home, my husband, my sweet dog and cat, my friends, my daily routine, all of it. I thought that I belonged to Virginia, to Mary Washington, to America. This time here has shown me that what I thought of home was too complicated.

Home doesn’t have to be where you go after a long shift at work. It’s not where you cook dinner, or go to sleep at night. Home is where you love. Where you love your family, and the sunrise, where you love yourself. The location will change. You will change. And that’s ok, because home is where your life is. Every place you call home becomes a part of you, but you make it home. My home is over 10,000 miles away, and I just can’t wait to get back there and fall in love with it all over again.

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You can’t always choose where you land, but wherever your life is, love it.

Categories: Family, Friends, Military Life, Moving, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

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