A Memory

Disclaimer: I’m grieving and have more feelings than I know what to do with. Writing is one way to sort through them. Not sure if they’ll make sense, but here they are.

Further back. In the month or so of receiving her diagnosis. Early 2017.

The bishop is over to give Carla a blessing. Reilly administers the oil. Or maybe the roles are switched.

I’m crying way before “amen.”

She hugs the bishop. She hugs Reilly.

She says to me, “Come here.” And she hugs me.

Comforts ME.

When she’s the one with less than 30 months to live.

Always a giver; always a fighter. Always loving.

18 Months

Dear Zinger,

I want to tell you a story. Don’t worry, it’s about you.

Nearly two weeks ago, you had woken up at least an hour earlier than usual. Dadda had prepared your morning bottle and got you out of your crib. I could hear all of this happening from the bedroom: the fridge, the microwave; Dadda greeting you as he opened your door. I was still under the covers, trying to decide whether I should get up. Maybe I was scrolling through Facebook or trying to blink away the dark static of dusk, but you were in the living room, drinking your bottle, staying relatively calm and quiet. Then after a few minutes Dadda said, “May, Z just threw up all of her milk.”

Friday.

I walked to the living room and Dadda asked what to use to clean up the mess. I looked at you and asked if you were okay. You were crying. I picked you up and said that I was sorry. Maybe it was the milk at 5am; maybe it was too early for your stomach to be so full. I gave you some water, and you ate two Goldfish, but that did not stay down. We took off your shirt and wiped the vomit from the high chair. We laid you on the floor, and I lay beside you as you drifted off to sleep.

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You managed a pretty long nap. You seemed okay with a little more water and a bit of banana. I texted two doctor friends, and they both said the same thing: Keep you hydrated. Sips of water at a time. If you can keep down the water and banana, then try BRAT the rest of the day — banana, rice, applesauce, toast.

We were making progress. You love rice, bananas, and toast, and you were hungry. You had a teaspoon of water through an oral syringe every 5-10 minutes.

You made it nearly six hours without an episode. Just before Dadda got home, it all came up, but slimy. Banana. Toast.

Rice. So much rice.

We started over again. You began to hate the syringe. But we learned that cold water felt pretty good going down your throat. And you knew enough to cooperate when you were thirsty.

We scaled back to bananas and toast.

About two hours later you started climbing over the arm of the sofa the way you often do, so it seemed you were back to feeling somewhat normal. One of your favorite Pixar cartoons was playing as you romped around. After your final dismount from the couch, you walked over to me and let out a whimper, which turned into a full-blown cry. I realized too late that this was THE signal. It came, and I was unprepared. Your tummy was a fountain of rice and bile, flowing onto the floor, spewing an irregular rhythm.

I wiped your face, picked you up. Held you close, and told you how sorry I was. I hated so much that you were sick.

Two hours later you wandered into our bedroom and rolled around in a blanket on the floor. In the dark. I watched you; I knew you were tired. After a few minutes you walked up to me and cried. I picked you up to carry you to the bathroom, hoping to make it in time, but I wasn’t fast enough.

I was so, so sorry.

The bright side was that you were keeping down water for at least two hours at a time, so you had wet diapers, just not as frequent as on your healthier days.

Another blessing was that you made it through most of the night without vomiting, and you had only one episode on Saturday.

Sunday morning you woke up crying. You were hungry and weak, only having water and Pedialyte and bread in the past day. You were prisoner to a stomach bug that offered no other choices. But the virus had stayed long enough and was on its way out, and when Dadda offered you a plate of banana pieces, your little hand trembled as you reached to the plate and brought real food to your mouth and remembered the exquisite sweetness and texture and the feeling of something substantial nourishing your body.

Nearly two weeks later you show no signs of ever having been sick. Even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I felt I was falling short. Your being sick meant something about me as your mother that didn’t make any sense, but ultimately it meant that I was worried. I’m allowed to be worried. But now that you’re better, I feel forgiven. I feel grateful.

You have mostly forgiven food, which shows in your restored appetite. I feel grateful for this, too.

Today, nearly two weeks later, you are 18 months old.

As much as we try to control your surroundings, predict your life—even in the short-term—I’ve realized that patterns of raising a child more closely resemble the uncertainty of your next hurl. There may be obvious signs, but will I be fast enough to avoid a mess? Will I ever be sufficiently prepared? Will the answer to these questions ever be yes?

The point is we recover, right? We get over the acidic and chunky and putrid. We appreciate the struggle in hindsight, but we truly cherish the fresh air now. At least we should. We bounce back stronger and a hell of a lot smarter. And hungrier.

Maybe 18 months barely scratches the surface — there’s so much more life to go — but the scratches are there. We’ve enjoyed your first year and a half with you, even when you passed your stomach bug on to me and Dadda. What a pleasant weekend that was! We’ve had so much fun and learned so many things. And we still have so much to learn.

Let’s keep going.

Love, Mom

Letter to Baby Girl: Week 40

Past the watermelon stage!

Dear Baby Girl:

Technically, you’re at 39 weeks, 6 days.

And there’s an end in sight.

You’re coming next week for sure if you don’t come earlier.

Pretty great, right?!

We saw the doctor today, and I’m still measuring the same as last week.

But we all know that doesn’t mean anything; you still could come at any time.

Lola was with us in the doctor’s office today. Your father found your heartbeat, and Lola commented that your heartbeat sounds strong. The doctor said you’re really healthy, but the placenta isn’t going to last forever. We need for you to arrive so I can start feeding you and so you can start growing in our home — in our family — where there’s plenty of room.

The next time the doctor sees us will be at the hospital.

Little one, I’m tired. And I’m sorry I’ve been so irritable, like seriously cranky. You probably can’t tell exactly what’s been going on, but I’ve been averaging about four hours of sleep every night for at least the past month. I know some people have it worse, but the fatigue is taking a toll.

Also, it hurts to walk. I feel … bruised. Like someone kicked me between the legs or I straddle-fell on the crossbar of a bicycle. Your beautiful skull creates pressure on all the nerve endings down there in my pelvis, causing pretty sharp pains.

No worries, though. Easy enough to solve. I’ll just keep my feet up and minimize walking.

You know what I love? When your dad gets off of work and stops by the apartment to see us before he goes to class. And  when your dad takes a break from homework to get a drink of water and kiss my forehead and talk to you. And when we pray together, thanking God for the blessing of having you in our lives.

See what I did there, Baby Girl? I acknowledged somewhat negative feelings but I also recognized blessings. Please don’t deny yourself of the range of feelings to experience in this life. It’s okay to feel angry or hurt or irritated, but if you can also exercise some faith and maintain a practical optimism and hope, you’ll do just fine.

I know you’ve been waiting to make your big debut. Heaven knows everyone here on the outside has been waiting. Everyone’s getting impatient. They want to see you. They want pictures. They want to hold you. I know it’s a lot to process, dealing with what other people want, but you’re doing great. I’m proud of you for doing what you want, for taking your time and growing so well.

You know what, though: I’m a little conflicted. Yes, I can’t wait to hold you in my arms, but I’ve really enjoyed our closeness these past nine months. From teeny zygote to full-fledged baby, it’s been quite a ride. This whole time I haven’t gotten sick and you’ve kept my ankles slender and hair shiny and nails strong. Despite my lack of sleep, you are my glow.

You’re moving around a lot more now, which makes me think you’re quite curious and maybe a little crowded. Exploring and stretching are sometimes the same thing. Your father and I will help you do so much more of both once you’re born.

We’re ready for you. We’ll see you soon.

Love, Mom

Letter to Baby Girl: Week 39

Dear Baby Girl,

I didn’t skip week 38. Lest you think your mother can’t count, I need to explain a few things that happened at your ultrasound last Friday:

  • We confirmed that your due date is sooner than what the people at the doctor’s office originally determined. I mean, it’s only four days sooner, but four days is more than half a week, which prompts me to round up and move our weekly count up by a week. So that’s how I got week 39. Of course, you’re going to come when you’re good and ready, but it’s nice to have a more correct number out there. So it’s not me who can’t count; it’s the people with the science degrees. Blame them.
  • We saw your cutie-face profile. You had this smooshed-in nose and these puckered lips, and one of your hands was up by your forehead until you brought it toward your mouth. I wanted to cuddle you so much right then.
  • We found out approximately how big you are. The ultrasound tech measured your noggin and your tummy, and the computer calculated your weight. Of course there’s a margin of error, but I think you may be close to what the ultrasound tech measured, just because I know what it’s like to lift weights or other things of various hefts like bags of sugar or gallons of milk. You’re somewhere in between a bag of sugar and gallon of milk, little one. The perinatologist told us that you’d most likely pattern your birth weight after the parent who had the heavier birth weight. That wasn’t me: I was 5 pounds, 4 ounces. So you can blame your father. Well, “blame” might be too strong a word for you because you’re an innocent party, but I’m the one that gets to push you out, so I’ll blame him instead.
  • We learned that since you’d still be significantly far away from the 10-pound threshold by the time you’re born, that I can try to deliver you vaginally. If you were closer to 10 pounds, doctors would suggest a c-section. But both the perinatologist and the doctor have witnessed Asian moms successfully birthing decent-sized babies like you. This reassures me.

I told several people at church yesterday how big you are, and they either looked at me and said, “What?!” or they outright said, “But you’re so little. How can you be carrying such a big baby?” Well, I could be impressed with myself, but I’m more impressed with you. Impressed, enamored, completely in awe.

Your Florida grandma and her husband have started their trip out here. They should arrive by the end of the week, and they are very excited. Your Florida grandma has even gone so far to prophesy a little brother for you in the next two years. She’s already predicting siblings for you! What do you think about that?

Also, I think Florida Grandma would like for you to call her “Lola.” It’s a Filipino term of endearment for grandmother. And it’s a good way to distinguish between Florida and Utah grandma, though I doubt you’d ever be confused. Both are awesome ladies, though.

Today, the doctor checked me and said that I’m around two centimeters wide and 70% effaced. Is that too much information for you? This is especially helpful for me, since the last time the doctor checked I was totally closed for business. And yet, according to a nurse-midwife friend of mine, I could have today’s measurements for the next three hours or the next two weeks. It would be nice if my body cooperated sooner than later. Once you’re out, you can keep growing as much as you want!

I admit I’m getting a little more nervous each day, but we listened to your heart again today at the doctor’s office, and you sound as strong as ever. We’re going to be just fine.

Your father is a real sweetheart. He said he was nervous, too. He’s nervous about my pain and the uncertain date of your arrival. He really wants to give us his best possible support. Lola suggested that he give us a blessing, which is a mighty fine idea. Bless away, Dada.

Little one, we already know you’re a cool and remarkable baby. Everyone is so excited to meet you, but not as excited as your dad and I.

We’ll see you soon. Like, dang soon. Hopefully.

Love, Mom

Letter to Baby Girl: 37 Weeks

Dear Baby Girl,

I’ve been waiting to use the words “at term” with you, but when I browse the internet, some sites say 37 weeks is full term, some sites say you’re early term. I’ll just say you’re in the term range, which is nothing but awesomeness.

“Term”inology is so confusing.

That was supposed to be something called a joke. Meant to be funny, meant to provoke an association that’s supposed to make you laugh. You may recognize it as a pun and roll your eyes because puns are on the lower end of the humor spectrum. Or you may really love puns and laugh. Or you may stifle your laughter because you realize I was just telling the joke for attention. How I already yearn for your attention.

Well, 37 weeks is just three weeks away from your due date. How did nine months turn into three weeks? How have we spent nearly three-fourths of a year together already?

I have officially begun maternity leave. I’m very excited to focus on spending at least the next few months getting to know you: feeding, sleeping, physical features, facial expressions. I imagine myself watching you in all my waking moments.

At last week’s appointment, the doctor informed us of two situations where we would go to the hospital: if I have contractions that are five minutes apart that last for an hour, or if my water breaks. Now, I have these events called Braxton-Hicks contractions. You probably feel them. My tummy gets really hard for varying amounts of time. I usually walk around for a few seconds, or if I’m trying to sleep, I change positions to make my tummy relax. I also try to stay hydrated.

I have only seen water breaking on television or movies, and I get the impression of a busted floodgate. But I’ve heard that it doesn’t always happen that way. I guess you’ll let me know, regardless.

My body has not yet shown these signs that you are ready to enter this world. You move around and stretch, but you seem rather cozy still.

You get the hiccups a lot, at least once a day. Again, there’s information on the internet that worries me about your hiccups, and there are sites that say they’re normal and preparatory for some of the functions you’ll have once you’re born, like breathing air.

Oh, I feel the need to apologize. Easter this year isn’t until the end of April, but the Easter candy is on full display at all the stores, and I want to eat all of it. We picked up some of those Reeses peanut butter eggs and a bag of jelly beans. We put the peanut butter eggs in the pantry on a high shelf, so: out of sight, out of mind. But I put the jelly beans in a jar on the kitchen table, and I have been eating from that jar all weekend. Granted, it’s only one or two at a time, but that easily turns into at least a dozen a day. So, I’m sorry if you’re experiencing a little more sugar than usual. At least I get to wonder if you have a favorite flavor. I personally like the citrusy ones.

Everyone’s asking if we have picked a name for you yet. I tell everyone the same thing: we have a list that we’re narrowing down. But I guess I’ll say that the names we have narrowed down your father and I agree on. They’re all great and could fit you  perfectly. In our process, we have tried to pick names that would minimize teasing from other kids. More classic but not too common; strong and not overly trendy. More traditional spellings. We like how curious and excited people are to know your name, and we know how hard it is to be patient when they’re so excited, but people could chill out. Just a smidgeon.

We have another appointment today. These weekly visits only emphasize how quickly you’ll be here! Your father and I will ask questions and listen to your heartbeat. The doctor will measure and assess. We’re waiting for him to update us on some of your recent developments, and even if he orders an ultrasound, we hope everything continues to be okay.

Sweet child, we love that you’re in the term range; we think it’s great that you can come at any moment. We love the happiness you have already brought into our lives.

We’ll see you soon.

Love, Mom

Letter to Baby Girl: Week 36

Dear Baby Girl,

It’s getting close.

We are well into 36 weeks, and everybody says that you can come at any time now. Everyone asks if I’m excited, and of course I say that I am, but I really wonder how excited you are. You’re still moving a lot, stretching, testing the limits of my ribs. You’ll soon test my pain threshold, but all I know is that whatever pain I experience will be worth having you in my arms to finally hold and coo at and dote over.

This world is such an interesting and beautiful place. Your father and I can’t wait to explore it with you and see it through your eyes. Oh, to see regular and mundane things as brand new, to take nothing for granted.

Speaking of taking nothing for granted, I’m grateful for your father’s shirts. I have been wearing his running shirts and t-shirts for the past few weeks now. They cover my tummy well, and if I also wear your father’s hoodies, I have an even better idea what it’s like to be in his skin. As I type this, I think about how hard that man works: he goes to work to teach young minds about writing and critical thinking. I can imagine his frustration as he faces certain limits and attitudes of adolescence. It can be draining. And then he’s pursuing a Master’s degree at BYU. First of all I have to recognize his sacrifice for going to BYU. He got his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah, the great rival of BYU. And now that he’s immersed in the student culture in Provo he has to tolerate certain policies and mentalities that are just plain weird and often questionable. I’m not just talking from a spiritual/secular standpoint. There are arcane ideas and draconian practices and sometimes immovable one-sidedness that people seem oblivious to. Maybe if you decide to go to BYU you’ll see what I mean. Or maybe things will have changed for the better by then. I mean, they’re starting to make strides, and I can’t discount whatever progress has occurred, but there’s so much more room for improvement. Always remember that you can improve yourself as you work on your spirituality and decency as a human being.

Wow, that was a long paragraph. I trust you’ll be able to follow it, because we intend to help you develop a good attention span. Baby Girl, be ready for all the stimuli. There is so much of it everywhere. I can be easily distracted, and sometimes talking with your father our conversations wander, where various subjects stretch like tendrils that dissipate into nothing. However, you should see us bear down to do homework. We can sit for hours at a time typing and taking moments to share ideas that are new and fun to us. We want to teach you to filter and focus. These behaviors will help you understand the importance of respect. It’s a very basic principle, one that I never fully understood until I was an adult. There’s a lot that goes into interacting with other human beings. Some of it seems plain common sense; some of it has to be learned over a long period of time. Your father and I will teach you the best we can, and then we hope you’ll decide what’s what and respect others as they respect you. And part of this respect is to remember not to judge people until you’ve considered their story. People have stuff going on in their lives that we don’t know about. Always be willing to wonder if they’ve had a bad day or haven’t eaten or feel sad, and see if there’s a way to help them, even if it’s to give them a hug and tell them it’s okay. Or to acknowledge their feelings and give them space.

I didn’t intend for so much of this letter to lecture you. We have another doctor’s appointment today, and I’ve been looking at birth plans and want to ask a bunch of questions to prepare for your real-time arrival. The weight of the reality of your being here strikes me more strongly each day, and as we preregistered at the hospital yesterday, your father asked some important questions that assured me of his desire to be prepared. We want to be good parents.

There’s undeniable proof in this world of good parents. The father of some good friends of mine passed away last week, and so many wonderful memories and expressions of love overflowed from everywhere for this man. He and I talked only a few times, and he helped one of his daughters move to New York City while I tagged along, but I’ll always know him as a very tender-hearted, generous man who loved his family and treated others with respect. He was a big man, but he had an even bigger heart. I want his example to teach us. And you.

Dear sweet child, your father will be home soon, and then we will go to the doctor who might tell us how big you are, how much you weigh, if your position has changed. We’ll listen to your heartbeat; that never gets old. These physical indicators of your readiness pale in comparison to our eagerness to have you here.

And are we ever eager.

We’ll see you soon.

Love, Mom

Letter to Baby Girl: 35 Weeks

imitating tummy

Dear Baby Girl,

Last week the doctor confirmed that your head is right down where it should be. You have swum your way down to the closest possible escape. Have you thought about this? Have you thought about the effort it will take to squeeze your body through a hole that seems impossibly unaccommodating?

You’re already teaching me: I’ve never turned down a reasonable challenge, but is this reasonable? You are five or so weeks away from defying reason. The doctor also said you’re growing fast, and I imagine your curled body inside my 4’10” body and my 25-pound weight gain as early indicators of your amazing defiance. I already consider myself pretty tough: Shots don’t really hurt. I’ve run a couple half-marathons, a few 10Ks, several 5Ks. I’ve done a sprint triathlon. I’ve wiped out on a mountain bike on a technical trail I had no right being on. But I have a feeling you’re going to show me what it’s like to be really tough.

This — your grand entrance — seems a completely different level of toughness. This is going to take some faith and determination that I probably haven’t tapped into. I mean, your dad has already decided he isn’t going to watch your birth from the doctor’s perspective, but he’ll hold my hand and encourage me. And that’s okay, because everyone has his threshold for gore and pain, even other people’s pain. And he’s already been incredibly supportive and committed to taking care of us. But do you know what I hope happens? I hope your dad cries. He’s only cried once in his life — not even at our wedding — and I don’t know if he’s missing tear ducts or if he’s dehydrated or whatever, but maybe your arrival will be a rare occasion that inspires tears. Maybe your toughness and cuteness and tiny body will unkink and restore the waterworks. Maybe your positioning is your way of telling us how ready you are to see your dad cry.

Yesterday after church, I took the following photo. Your dad actually handled the camera. Did you know that he and I like basketball? He knows all the teams and players and trades. I haven’t followed current teams, but I can recall players from the ’90s when I watched pro basketball all the time with my little brother.

Also, shooting hoops was one of our first dates. We went to the gym and played HORSE and practiced foul shots. You’ll soon see that your dad and I aren’t tall people, but your dad has a mad three-point shot. He can pretty much shoot from anywhere beyond the arc. When I’m warmed up, I have a solid short shot and can be pretty scrappy. Maybe you’ll share our affinity for basketball, but it’s okay if you don’t.

Anyway, you have grown to the point where my tummy looks like a basketball. I hope you’ll someday appreciate how much fun we’ve had with you these eight months.

passing the ball!

Little tough one, we look forward to having so much more fun and facing life’s challenges with you in the next few weeks.

Love, Mom