I ran into an acquaintance of my mother’s the other day in the grocery store. Not an unusual occurrence in our community, where both my mother and I were born, and therefore just know people simply because we’ve lived here so damn long. She asked me how “that son of yours is doing," commenting that she followed his early days of life thanks to a e-mail chain that sprung up from my daily little missives to close friends and family apprising them of Will’s condition. My e-mails ended up having a greater circulation rate than some small town newspapers, and while that still boggles my mind, it always makes me feel humble and grateful to know that so many people cared enough about my family to share this information and our simple, yet direct requests for prayers on Will’s behalf during his hospital stay in the NICU. I have no doubt that he is where he is today thanks to the power of prayer, the wonders of modern medicine and the capacity for caring of many, many people.
This little grocery store encounter got me thinking about what I call “Will’s story." It’s been a while since I’ve visited it. I mused upon this during my morning walks over the last couple of days, taking the occasion to gauge my emotional reaction to thinking objectively about it. I've been a long time coming to this place. It's only been recently that I've been able to read my e-mail journal, finding the documentation of Will's ups and downs, particularly the weekend when we didn't know whether he would in fact survive, too much to process and handle. For the longest time, I couldn’t watch any medical show on television, fictional (aka ER) or reality (you name it). Too painful, too close to home. Too many memories. Things are better now -- I’m currently addicted to House, although I swear that at least every other patient of the week on that show ends up having some sort of seizure (which I’m all too familiar with). And if that patient is a child or young person, I find that it’s still a little hard to watch, fictional aspect notwithstanding. It’s still tough for me to see any sort of neurological procedure (how ‘bout that drill!) shown on a tv drama -- although if I put my mind to it, I could probably tell you just how close to reality they are (again, that all too familiar thing...)
I may be in a place, finally, where I can write about this life-altering, life-giving experience, for which I was completely unprepared, yet immediately thrown into without my consent. One doesn’t make a middle-of-the-night emergency room visit at 25 weeks pregnant, suffering from an excruciating backache, only to have a nurse tell her that she is fully dilated and will deliver her baby an entire trimester early into unknown circumstances and not come out a transformed individual. Can’t happen. Didn’t happen.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t wrestle with a big old passel of guilt about Will’s premature birth, despite what the words of the doctors say and the protestations of family and friends. I can’t shake the fact that it was my body that failed my baby, causing him to come into this world way too soon, forcing him to be more courageous and resisiliant and willful than any human should have to be, asking him to endure unknown, untold problems, obstacles, pain. Every achievement and milestone is gloriously bittersweet, always celebrated and encourgaged -- yet constantly swathed in the haze of "what if?" and "why?" and "what will be?"
He is a modern miracle. I believe it. Doctors have confirmed it.
"Wow," they say upon hearing my Cliff-Notes version of his health history. "He looks so great/is doing so well/is an amazing success story. You must be very proud." Proud? Sure. I'll take proud. It beats the hell out of the deepest, darkest, most self-deprecating things I usually think when medical reality usurps my parental pollyanna rose-colored glasses and jacks up the always-simmering-under-the-surface guilt. Wow indeed. (Hmm. Not sure I'm ready to go here just yet. Can you tell? This one's gonna be tough...)
Writing has always been my catharsis, my way of exorcising demons and finding clarity. I think that I’m ready to begin this process with Will’s story. I owe it to my son to get his tale on paper, before the details -- good, bad, happy, sad and yes, funny -- slip away.
But mostly, I owe it to myself.