I have heard parents say that one of the happiest days of their life was when their child was born. Not so for me and my husband, Michael.
The day Calvin was born and the two weeks leading up to his birth were filled with much fear, anxiety and sorrow, the twisted emotions of both hope and a sense of peril which we still sometimes feel.
At thirty-two weeks gestation, a fetal sonogram had revealed a significant absence of the white matter in Calvin's brain. In the wake of that finding was a trip to Boston hospitals for back-to-back appointments with radiologists, obstetricians and neonatologists, more sonograms, blood draws, a fetal MRI, and a midnight IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin) for me.
A plan was made to deliver Calvin at Boston's Children's Hospital via cesarean section at thirty-five weeks to increase his chances of being able to breath on his own. A neurosurgeon and donor platelets would be available in case Calvin suffered hemorrhages in his brain and needed a shunt.
But Calvin began making his way into the world on his own a week earlier during an ice storm in Maine. Medevac helicopters had been grounded so we had no way of getting to Boston where specialists knew every detail of his case and were ready for him to come.
From our town's Midcoast Hospital I was transferred to Maine Medical Center, and since there were no matching donor platelets available, I underwent a forty-five minute pheresis—while having mild contractions—to extract my platelets in case Calvin needed them to stop a brain bleed. The pheresis left me with too few platelets to get an epidural without the risk of bleeding into my spine, so I had to go under general anesthesia. Since I would be unconscious, the surgeon would not allow Michael into the operating room, so, most regrettably, neither of us saw Calvin being born.
Calvin spent a week in the neonatal intensive care unit, the first sixteen hours of which he was on a respirator before being put on a C-PAP. He spent another two and a half weeks in the Maine Med continuing care nursery while I stayed restless nights at the nearby Ronald McDonald house and Michael commuted daily to and from work since at the time the college offered no parental leave for fathers. When Calvin was stable enough, we transferred to Midcoast Hospital where Calvin and I boarded in the labor and delivery ward for another three and a half weeks before bringing Calvin home for the first time.
The last twenty years have been a roller coaster which has only recently felt as if it might be slowing down and leveling out a bit. It has been a stream of doctors and nurses and phlebotomists and surgeons and therapists and needles and intubations and bruises and broken bones and surgeries and pneumonias and seizures on top of seizures on top of seizures and drugs after drug after drug and side effects ad nauseam. It has been full of grief and loss and worry and shrieks and tears and laughter and some joy.
And though Calvin has been ridiculously difficult to raise for all the reasons I've stated, and though we suffer daily the loss of what we thought parenthood might promise, it is in great part because of Calvin that we live an intensely rich life; we feel the myriad of human emotions—the joys, the sorrows, the regrets, the hopes—more profoundly than we might have, we believe. Because of Calvin, we have met hundreds of extraordinary people—doctors, nurses, therapists, educators, aides, mothers, fathers, strangers. Calvin has helped me to understand that this mundane thing I do, which is to feed him, bathe him, clothe him, change his diapers, wipe his butt, nurse him, is the most important thing in the world: to take care of another human being. And though I regularly fail, he inspires me to try to do it with grace and patience. He allows me to forgive myself when I falter. He loves me unconditionally. He is pure of heart without a mean or resentful bone in his body. And although I don't believe for a nanosecond that everything happens for a reason (I cannot believe in any divine or universal design or being that would make or allow a child like him to suffer so badly) he has given me great purpose and I hope he inspires empathy in others.
And so, although I would always wish for Calvin to be healthy, to be free from suffering, free from seizures, drugs and their heinous side-effects, be able to speak, read, write, sing, run, play, I can wholeheartedly say that my Calvin is the best person I know, and that I am deeply grateful to be his mother and to celebrate his birth even though it was so hard on me and Michael.
Happy birthday, baby. What a crazy twenty-year roller coaster ride it has been.