|My Little Boy||Jan 1, ’08 1:04 PM
for Mel ‘s contacts
I was 19 years old. I had been married for six months. I was 29 weeks and 4 days pregnant.
The doctor had told us it was one boy and one girl. But there was something wrong with one of the babies, the girl, a birth defect that could not be fixed. “Incompatible with life” is what they called it. She would stop breathing the moment her umbilical cord was cut, her lifeline to me was the only thing keeping her alive.
I had been on bed-rest the entire pregnancy. Praying. Praying that they would both be all right. Praying the doctor was wrong.
My baby girl would be named Victoria Maree, and my son, Cody Richard James (Richard for my father and James for BB’s father).
BB and I were living in a small three bedroom apartment, military housing in Augsburg, Germany. My parents and two little sisters were visiting us for the holidays, and we were scheduled to go on a trip to Garmisch that morning. I got up in the middle of the night, as quietly as I could, rubbed my back, held my stomach and then, as a last resort, ran a warm bath. I soaked for a while, then got dressed again and laid down on the couch. I tried to go back to sleep. I had hoped all my efforts would ease the back pain.
I finally woke BB. He told me to call the nurse. I called, and the nurse said simply, you are in labor, get here as soon as you can.
It was bone chilling cold that morning, the windows of our white rented eight passenger van were covered in ice. It was like climbing into an igloo with wheels. Ever the detail-conscious person, BB took his time scrapping the ice from each window. It felt like there had to have been at least 32 windows in that van. I finally stuck my head out the window and said, I’m in labor here, don’t you think we should get moving? Besides, how many people can possibly be on the road at two am?
At the hospital they admitted me and gave me some medicine to stop the contractions. BB hates hospitals. With a passion. But, he stood by my bedside for hours with a painful uneasy look on his face, just as scared as I was Finally the contractions eased and the back pain was bearable. The nurses told him that the labor had stopped. I told him to go home, take my family on to their much anticipated trip to Garmisch. I would be fine. I would see him when he got back. And so, he left me there.
A few hours later it started all over again. This time it felt much more urgent. The nurses flitted around the room, whispering things to each other in frantic sounding tones. I remember thinking,why are you whispering? I don’t even speak German.
They hooked a monitor to my belly. The monitor was a scary little machine, telling the nurses things I couldn’t understand and wasn’t sure I wanted to. I imagined it was a robot, with two square windows for eyes and a narrow slit for a mouth. A long piece of paper spilled out its mouth like a tongue covered in squiggly lines. I remember thinking in a very different circumstance it would make me laugh. The nurses would periodically enter the room to rip the tongue from the monitor’s mouth, squint at it and then hurry back out of the room.
I threw up.
I was terrified.
Then, my doctor came into the room. Walter Kleindeinst. A short man with snowy white hair, kinda like an angel. When the military offered to send me to a hospital of my choosing, I chose instead to stay in Germany with Dr. Kleindeinst. A man who could speak five languages, but barely spoke a word. But when he did speak, people would lean forward to hear what he said. He was a man you couldn’t help but believe in, and I did.
He held my hand and said, The babies are in trouble, we must take them now. Where is your husband? I told him of the trip to Garmisch and he said, we will catch him before he leaves. I believed him with all my heart.
And so, as I was wheeled down the hall to surgery I remember shouting my phone number, him dialing a phone, as I passed him he said confidently, I will see you in a few minutes, everything will be just fine. The nurses shaved me for a cesarean while we moved down the hall, they lifted my legs and put on surgery socks. The nurses were alternately pushing people out of the way and stroking my hair, holding my hand. I rubbed my belly and said, mommy’s here babies… I love you.
And then I was on the operating table, no time for an epidural, the anesthesia was given through a mask. My eyes grew heavy, and then I couldn’t keep them open. I was so tired, but I could still hear them talking, and then I felt a hot flash across my belly. I have to wake up, I thought, I have to tell them that they are hurting me. But I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak. I felt a rush of fluid across my stomach, I felt it run down my sides and pool by my back. Then incredible pressure and tugging. At 9:59 am I heard a baby cry. And then nothing.
I woke hours later and asked for BB and my Mom. BB came in and told me that we had a son. A 3lb 4oz little boy, he has so much hair, he said. He handed me a Polaroid of our son so I could see for myself. And our daughter? I said. It wasn’t a girl, BB said, it was another boy, he was 4lbs and 5oz.
Victoria Maree became Richard James, and Cody Richard James became Cody Jakob.
And so began the day that would be my greatest joy and my greatest sorrow.
Richard James died when he was 10 hours old. They never let BB and I see him. We were Americans, in a Catholic German Hospital. They were afraid we would demand he be put on life support. I wouldn’t have if they had given me the chance. I just wanted to touch him. Say good-bye. They let my Mom in the room and later my friend, Dee. Dee took one picture of him in a bonnet.
It took me a year to look at that picture. And years after that before I could accept he was really gone, and that it wasn’t my fault.
There were days when I thought that losing Richard could break me, make me lose my mind. I didn’t have anyone that understood what I was going through, I tried talking to the few people that would listen and I even tried to talk to a priest, but it didn’t help. I was so sad and so angry at God, it was hard to imagine how I would make it. But there was one big reason I did make it through all that…. his name is Cody.
Cody was impossibly tiny. He had a hole in his heart, bleeding in his brain, he would forget to breathe so many times a day that I would lose count. He spent over a month on the respirator. They tried to take him off two times, but he didn’t have enough strength and energy to breathe on his own.
We went to see him every day. I would go once in the morning and once at night. We spent countless hours “kangarooing”, holding him skin to skin on our chests. He had hair everywhere, sideburns even. I jokingly called him Elvis. He had a small mirror shaped like a bear that hung on his incubator. When you pressed the button it sang, you are my sunshine, my only sunshine…. and in those days he was. He was the only thing that kept me moving.
He stayed in the hospital for three months, he came home a few days after his due date. He was still so tiny, 6lbs and 6oz at three months, the size most babies are when they are born. We thought he was chubby. What did we know? We were babies ourselves.
I was discharged from the army when Cody was five months old. Cody still had a lot of medical concerns, and between his needs and my fragile mental state, I decided it would be best for me to stay home with him. I took a compassionate discharge for death of a child. We came stateside for a month, look here is Cody with Stacey at five months old!
They said he may have brain damage, learning disabilities. To expect him to do things much slower than a normal child. I largely ignored what the doctors said. After all, weren’t these the people that told me I was having a baby girl? And they had been wrong about that.
But, I took him to a German physical therapist for over a year and even though I couldn’t see a single area where he was lacking I still did everything she said. Cody sat at five months, crawled at seven months and walked two days before his first birthday. By eighteen months they declared that there were no outward signs that he had even been premature.
When Cody was almost two we moved back to the states, BB went back to college, I worked to support us. In a way, all three of us grew up together. Cody was a Momma’s boy, my best buddy, we would spend most days together just the two of us while BB was at school. Then I would work second shift while Cody hung out with BB and his study group.
When Cody was five BB graduated from college and took a job in Oklahoma. Cody started Kindergarten and excelled, not a single moment of strife for that boy. Everything they taught him, he soaked it up like a little sponge.
When we decided to have Carsten, Cody went to school and told his teacher that “we” had all decided to have a baby. He told me he asked God for a baby sister, and he was sure he was getting one. I worried he would be disappointed if he was wrong, so after the ultrasound that confirmed we were having a girl I excitedly bought a pink outfit, wrapped it up, and prepared for Cody to be surprised. Of course, he didn’t quite understand what the big surprise was, he had been confident all along. Later his teacher told me that weeks before my ultrasound he had went to school and told the class he was going to have a sister.
He moves through life with little effort, witty and outgoing, he has all of the characteristics that I love the most about myself. My sarcasm, my sense of humor, my eyes… But, he also shares with me the things about myself I am the most frustrated by, little patience when we are not good at something, trouble sleeping, a penchant for dorky one liners… He has always been sure of his place in our world. He has always viewed this family as a three way equal partnership, with his decisions having as much impact on this family as BB’s and mine, a third parent to Carsten… which alternates between being endearing and maddening.
In the last year I have packed away his childhood things, watched him have his first girlfriend, answered questions about life and why girls do the things they do, and started buying him clothing that is bigger than my own… watched him turn from a child into a young man.
All those years ago, when they were wheeling me down that hall, when I was whispering my love to the child still inside me…. I had a lot of expectations. I expected parenting to be rewarding. I expected that I would find him adorable no matter what he looked like. I expected that I would love him no matter what type of person he became.
But, I never expected that in addition to loving my son, that I would also truly like him. I didn’t expect to find him the kind of person I would want to befriend if he were not my child. I didn’t know I would wake up every morning and look forward to hearing what he had to say. I didn’t expect that after 13 years I would look at him and still be truly amazed that he was created by me. I didn’t expect that at age 13 I would find that he is smarter than I could ever dream of being, and be delighted by that. I didn’t expect that he would know exactly how to make me laugh, so hard sometimes that I can’t catch my breathe. Or that he would know exactly how to make me cry. But, not just from frustration, but by the depth of his kindness, his thoughtfulness. I didn’t expect that he would want to get to know me, to be first my son, and second my friend. I didn’t expect that he would recognize the things that define who I am, and choose to be like me.
But, oh…. what a beautiful surprise.
And so, tomorrow he will be 13. A teenager. A fine young man. I wouldn’t change one thing about him. He is my son and I am SO VERY proud of him.
Happy Birthday Cody.