24 years ago this week, I hemorrhaged at UCSD Hospital in San Diego, after pushing out baby A and baby B. The doctors didn’t notice uterine tissue on the placenta, which looked like a big mess of beef, with two hoses attached to it – the two umbilical cords that attached those tiny humans to me for the 35 weeks and 5 days of their life inside my body.
During the 18 weeks I was on bed rest, I reminded myself daily that my body was a better incubator than anything in the NICU. I taped a photo to the lamp on my nightstand that I cut out from Twins Magazine of two adorable toddler twin girls in a stroller. One looked like she was taking a bite out of her sister’s juicy face. Both their heads were perfectly round, their cheeks rosy and eyes bright. I think their names might have been the Lannigan twins or Lancaster twins, and I sometimes wonder how they came out, meaning… how are they now as women? Are they both alive? Did they suffer much trauma? Did they have a “happy” childhood? Were they “typically developing” children? Are they highly functioning adults? Do they have a close relationship with each other? How did their mom survive their childhoods?
That night in the ER, the umbilical cord was tied off and disposed of; but a metaphoric cord continues to tether me to these girls. Of course it does, I’m their mom. When I meet people who have no children, I am stunned by how much different their life is from my life.
Sometime I feel sadness for them, if they wanted to have children but it didn’t happen, due to infertility or the fact they didn’t have a partner during the years ripe for making a baby. But mostly I feel wistful, wondering how incredible it must be to have that much less worry, anxiety, and responsibility.
Then I tell myself that the price of love is worry, anxiety, and responsibility. That the price of love is grief. That the price of love is sitting with the knowledge of the impermanence of everything in the universe, and somehow getting out of bed in the morning and brushing your teeth, washing your face, letting the water in the shower wash away your tears, and starting again.
I miss my mom today. She loved those girls so fiercely.
She and my dad each had a baby to hold as they wheeled me back into surgery to try to stop the bleeding. I was scared. I looked her in the eyes and said, “I’m going to die now, aren’t I?” She immediately responded with a forceful, “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” I can see and hear her saying it. She had an energy about her that was volcanic.
My husband Lowell came with me into the surgery, and was traumatized by what he saw them do inside my body to save my life. For days, he kept trying to tell me, “Honey, I need to tell you what I saw…”
I had bad dreams and waking flashbacks for months. I imagined a different scenario, one where everything went “as planned,” where my doctor didn’t need to be called out of bed to rush back to the hospital to save me, and where I wasn’t beat up and exhausted and more white than paper from so much blood loss.
I’ve gained some wisdom in my almost 58 years on this planet. Nothing goes “as planned.” There is no such thing “as planned.”
“We plan, and God laughs,” is the old, often quoted truth.
And speaking of God, I still don’t know what that means, but I can tell you that I have occasionally felt a deep sense of connection to all things – to people present and past, to the earth and to the cosmos, and although I can’t put it into words well enough to explain it, I know it when it happens. And when I’m lucky enough to feel that exquisite event in my body, this body that housed 3 beings, I remind myself to be grateful for that moment, because it’s not going to last.
It’s fragile. We are fragile. I can’t hang on to that magnificent feeling, it’s too delicate, and I shouldn’t strive to do so. Everything changes. The good thoughts, feelings, and emotions change; and the bad thoughts, feelings, and emotions change.
I feel so sad today. I will allow myself more tears.
I let some fall as I typed this post, and I will let more escape as I stand under the water in the shower. I will look at my “do what gives me joy” list and pick an item or two to lift my spirits. I’ll have lunch with my Dad and his friends at his senior residence. These super agers are inspirational testaments to the human spirit – he is 86 and is on the young end in that community.
They have experienced loss of partners, children, parents, and friends. They experienced World War II, and all the atrocities that followed. Some of them are losing their eyesight, or are using rollators (the industry name for walkers, to make them seem sporty); but because it is independent living, they still have their minds intact. And what is beautiful and precious is that they are connected in community, which is the number one indicator for mental health and wellbeing, leading to longevity.
That bears repeating: “People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier, and live longer than people who are less well connected,” explains Dr. Waldinger, the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, who has been following more than 700 men since they were teenagers in 1938. Their numbers are dwindling, but as of last year, more than 60 of the original participants, now in their 90s, were still taking part in the study.
So today, I will sit with these wise elders and let myself fill up with gratitude for all our lives, and for everything that we humans experience in our time on the planet. And I’ll say a prayer for our country and our world. I’ll wish for love to win out over hate. I’ll wish for our country to unite behind common values of human decency.
May you be safe, happy, and healthy and may you live with ease.