This story happened shortly after my daughter Laurel’s premature birth many years ago.
After my daughter Laurel’s birth, I felt I was cursed. First, I was an alkie, and then I was the mother of a premature daughter. I was 31 years old and all my dreams of getting my career back seemed stalled.
When I showed fear and overwhelm, some well-meaning person would there, there me, and say, “God never gives us more than we can handle.’
Yes, it does. God, Goddess, Life whatever you call gives us a heck more than anyone can handle.
I was not going to let a two-pound baby girl defeat me. I was going to rise above. Instead of being “the comforted” I became the comforter. Instead of waiting for people to ask me how I was doing, I jumped in and asked them how they were.
My resilience would inspire them.
At the hospital when my sister fainted at the sight of Laurel, I gave her my wheelchair and pushed her back to my room – IV pole attached to my arm.
When the Second City cast visited, making me laugh so hard I winced in pain, I sent them home with my fruit basket. When my husband David cried and put crystals on his head, I held him, “There, there honey, you must be strong.”
Eventually, I left the hospital and because of my poor health, I had to go back to my parent’s house in Napanee. I was without my baby- hours away from the hospital. A woman I knew in London graciously agreed to visit Laurel, and every few days I received a handwritten note from her.
Every night I got to call the hospital. In those days, the Ontario Insurance Plan paid for one long-distance call a day. During one of those calls, one of the NICU nurses innocently asked, “When are you coming down this way next? The doctor wants to speak to you.”
I panicked, thinking the doctor must have wanted to give more terrible news.
I hung up and began crying. Mom told me to call back and ask them what they meant; when I did all they wanted to know was when I was visiting next so a doctor could be on call to answer any questions.
This should have comforted me, but it made me panic. I hating crying in front of my parents as they weren’t good with strong emotions. So rather than have us all stand there saying nothing while the wind blew through I asked Mom to babysit Brendan while I drove up to a recovery meeting in the country.
When I got there were only two men present.
One man was a family friend, who had been, in my parent’s wedding party.
The other was a ruddy-faced farmer who smelled like the barn. He had two teeth missing and wore wellingtons caked with manure and pants that hung so low that they showed the crack of his ass when he bent over.
We did some lofty readings about the removal of our objectionable character traits. When it was my turn to share, I was about to say some of the clever things I had gleaned over my two years of sobriety.
Instead of a jewel of wisdom dropping out, a lump of coal formed in my throat, and a guttural sound rose deep within the center of my being. Someone sounding like me was crying.
“Why was I given a sick baby? I have been a good girl. I have been praying! Why did this happen?” I had no idea where this was coming from but there were tears falling on my face. Every time my brain tried to bring me back to order, the rest of my body protested with more wracking sobs.
For the next hour, these two unlikely companions sat with me and made room for my pain.
They didn’t hush me or tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself-they handed me Kleenex, fed me Nanaimo bars, and even cried a few tears too.
For here out in the middle of nowhere, I somehow found two men who had kids that had died.
One man had lost two full-term babies. The other lost his son in a farm accident when the boy was about 12. The common theme: both told me that when tragedy hit, they had been drunk. They let their wives bury the dead and cry into their pillows while they sat in their trucks and drank themselves into oblivion.
“You are lucky, Deb. For unlike us you get to show up for your daughter.”
“But I hate it. I didn’t plan this.”
“Just because you are sober, doesn’t mean you won’t be challenged by life.”
I know that. I wasn’t naive. I had been challenged.
“I don’t have any faith that this will work out.”
“Faith isn’t about that. Faith doesn’t mean you can control whether she lives or dies. Fatih means you get to love her for as long as she lives.”
They packed up the rest of the squares for me and told me I could bring back the Tupperware container the following week. Before I drove back to my parents, I looked at myself in the rearview mirror. My face was swollen and red, and I heard myself say, “I’ve given birth to two babies in less than nine-month. I am a Goddess.
It took months before I knew the outcome of Laurel’s health. But by having two people connect with me and tell me their truth, it gave me faith for one more day.
I cranked up the radio-only country music when you’re driving the back roads: Charley Pride sang, You Gotta Kiss An Angel Good Morning. the bright red sun barely peaked above the horizon. Red sky at night- sailors’ delight.
For years when I told this story, I ended it with, ‘you can always find God- even in the middle of nowhere. But I don’t do that anymore=because after forty years on the road across Canada, I realize that no matter how small the place is, the places you call home is the center of the universe.
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