Fear and Loathing in R.O.

My nephew, Liam, is in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit (NICU). He was born prematurely at 31 weeks on May 19th and has been in the NICU since. It was known that Liam would have some congenital anomalies by the time my sister-in-law was at her 18th to 20th week of her pregnancy; they suspected an omphalocele and a cleft lip/palate during an ultrasound. What they didn’t expect was that he would be born so early and that he would still be in the NICU today.

The good news is that rather than having a cleft palate, he only has a cleft lip which will be corrected once he is medically stable. He also had a surgical repair of the omphalocele within five days of his birth.

The bad news is that after 2 and a half months, Liam is still having difficulty breathing on his own. They have tried to wean him off the ventilator at different times, but ultimately he has had to go back on. They just recently did some testing (bronchoscope and esophagram) which has come back inconclusive and they are currently trying to keep him off the vent as I type. The entire family has got Liam in our prayers and we pray that Liam, the little fighter that he is, stays strong.

I can’t deny that I have very mixed feelings about Liam. Not about who he is, because I do love him with all my heart and soul. Nor about his condition, which I know is very hard both physically and emotionally for all involved.

No, my mixed feelings have to do with my struggle with infertility. Because it has been over 10 years since my husband and I have been trying to start our own family, my sister-in-law’s pregnancy and Liam’s subsequent birth has brought out what I think is the worse in me.

His birth was such a contrast to his older brother, Tyler’s birth. Tyler is now 11 years old and when he was just an infant, I was just beginning my role as a new wife. Children were always on our mind, and we knew that we wanted to start our family within a year of our wedding. So I have such fond memories of Tyler as an infant, spending as much time as I could with him.

And now with Liam, it’s much more difficult to spend the same amount of time with him that I did with his brother. First of all, he is still in the NICU which makes holding and playing with him very difficulty. And second, emotionally it’s just very hard for me to connect with him or with his parents for that matter.

You would think that me being a registered nurse, I should have the capacity to take care of both Liam and his parents’ needs as well as help them navigate through such a difficult time despite my own personal struggles. And I can tell you honestly; I have always tried to put my feelings and struggles behind those that I felt needed it more than I did. Except now, I’m in desperate need of some of that compassion that I feel I have given to others for myself.

Before receiving the news of my sister-in-law’s pregnancy, I thought I had dealt rather decently with my infertility. Sure, it still stung a bit when I received word of other friends and extended family members who were pregnant, but overall I was pretty happy for them. Upon hearing this news, however, I was absolutely devastated. Here I spent the past ten years trying to get pregnant and have endured disappointment after disappointment and my sister-in-law, who just recently remarried 5 months prior to the big announcement, is pregnant with her second child.

I can’t say that jealousy had absolutely nothing to do with my major meltdown after hearing of the news, but it certainly wasn’t the primary reason for it. The word “failure” comes to mind, along with the words “inadequate” and “unworthy.” Those are the words that I thought of when I thought about myself. And they still do ring true even now two and a half months after Liam’s birth.

I have honestly wanted to spend more time with Liam and “bond” with him the way I did with his brother, to be there for him when he needs the most strength. But something just keeps me from making that next step. It’s my innate fear that I’m going to release some of this anger over my own issues onto this child … or that my stinky attitude is just going to cause more harm than good to his parents and any other family members. And quite honestly, I don’t think I have enough strength right now to put one foot in front of the other and be strong for myself, let alone for anyone else.

How bad of an Aunt am I that I feel these things about a child; a helpless baby? How horrible am I that I can’t set aside my own struggles to help out another family member in need? How undeserving am I to be a parent if I feel these things for someone else’s child?

Logically, I know I have a right to feel the things I do. I’ve learned that I haven’t dealt fully with my failed IVF attempt and that I obviously have very low self-esteem issues. What I don’t know now is how to snap out of this… to gather that strength that I’m sorely missing and make that first step towards healing myself.

To see pictures of Liam and family, click on the album below:

Liam

Erasu(red)

The last time I saw Erasure was my senior year in high school. I can remember that entire day clearly. It was unfortunately the night after my Godmother (Ninang) past away. I hadn’t cried yet; I was still in denial. I was close to her, and particularly her son who was the same age as I was. During her sickness (she died of ovarian cancer), we spent a lot of time with her and those people that were close to her. After all, these were the Filipino families that I spent most of my childhood growing up with. It certainly helped they were the families that my parents would spend their weekends either playing in bowling leagues or otherwise gambling through the night playing mahjong. Us kids would spend those long nights either playing in the arcade room at the bowling alley or entertaining ourselves by playing board games, listening to records (yes, records), or even making random prank phone calls a la-Bart Simpson-style. So when we finally got the news of my Godmother’s passing, I didn’t know how to feel. This was, after all, the first time I had experience the death of someone really close to me.

Since I was a senior in high school (and therefore “old enough to make my own decisions”), I had every intention of still going to the Erasure concert as I had already paid for the ticket, and let’s face it … I knew every single word of their songs. My Mom, however, had other ideas. She felt that I owed it to my “God-brother” and Ninong (Godfather) to be there with them. That feeling of being torn between responsibility and escape was ultimately what broke me down into tears over my Ninang’s death.

I can clearly remember secluding myself in my bedroom closet and crying. At first it was over the argument that my mom and I had. Then it was about feeling guilty about letting my “Godbrother” and Ninong down. And finally it was about the loss I felt over my Ninang’s death. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stop crying, why I suddenly felt so alone and so lost for any other emotion other than sadness. I must have stayed in my bedroom closet for what seemed like hours just crying and eventually napping on and off. Ultimately (and I’m not sure if she just felt bad for me), my Mom let me make the decision as to what I wanted to do. And well, as you already know from the first line of this entry, I chose to go to the concert.

I have a feeling my Ninang was looking after me that night. It’s as if she knew I needed the distraction of this concert to let me experience a little bit of happiness in the coming days. My friends had picked me up in the midst of what ended up being one of the biggest snow-storms that year. We ultimately made it to the Masonic Temple in Detroit (after our friend made quite a few unintentional 180-degree spinouts along the freeway) over an hour later than when the concert should have started. Lucky for us, Erasure also just arrived and still had to get the stage set up. An hour after arriving, Vince Clarke and Andy Bell treated us to a great performance, allowing me to forget for a moment how sad I was actually feeling inside. I sang my little heart out that night and was able to laugh at all the silly flamboyant outfits that Andy Bell would put on. And afterwards, as we made our way to Greektown for a late-night Pizzapapalis fix, my friends and I recounted all the adventures that we had that night. I didn’t end up getting home until after 2 am that night; well past my curfew. But the next morning, nothing was said. Again, I’d like to think that my Ninang had something to do with that as well.

Now, why am I recounting such a memory at this time? Well, it’s because this past Tuesday I had the opportunity to see Erasure again, more than 17 years since that winter evening back in high school. Come to think of it now, I’m more than twice the age I was back during that initial concert. (Yikes!) It’s also brought back memories of singing and harmonizing to Erasure songs on road trips to Chicago. And it brings back yet another memory of driving to Ann Arbor in the midst of another snowstorm just to visit hubby in college.

Anyway, the concert this past week was such a great time. It gave me the opportunity to sing all the classic Erasure songs that I used to harmonize back in high school and dance that “old-skool new-wave sway.” It’s also given me an opportunity to think of my Ninang again and remember her fondly … the way I do every time I sing one of their songs.

Click on album below to view more pictures from the concert:

Erasure Concert

Harry Potter Mania

Okay, I fully admit it. I love Harry Potter. No, not in that sick sense where I would have a crush on a fictional character (although ask me later about my unhealthy obsession over Captain Jack Sparrow – aka Johnny Depp), but in the sense that I love the series of books by JK Rowling.

I have been an avid reader all my life. I thank my parents, particularly my mom, for this habit. I remember both my parents reading to my brother and me when we were little; always bedtime stories. Later, it would be the weekly Saturday trip to the local library where, every summer until high school, I would take part in their summer reading program. I can remember being dragged to the mall (before I liked to go shopping) and begging my parents to leave me at the bookstore (B. Dalton’s, remember them?) so I could read books while my mom or dad went shopping. I would spend my allowance on books and, eventually when I got my first job (babysitting), I would spend my earnings on books as well.

One of my earliest and fondest childhood memories was making my mom read “Fox in Socks” by Dr. Seuss. If you have ever read that book, it is quite the tongue-twister of a book. The little devil on my shoulder used to make my mom read it faster and faster each time, which would inevitably make her mix up her words. I fully appreciate the fact that she humored me now, as the last time I read the book was to my nephew on one of his sleepovers at our house quite a few years back. It was that same exact book, tattered and masking-taped together, that I read while he was cuddled up to me in bed. I love that book as much as I love the memories it invokes.

Why do I love reading so much? I am an admitted and full-fledged daydreamer. I have, what my parents probably said to me over and over again while growing up, an “overactive imagination.” I love reading stories and “seeing” in my mind the scene that is described to me in words or imagining exactly how a conversation occurs in the context of the book. I love the way a good book evokes a range of emotions, from angry to sad to happy to surprised and of being able to go through those emotions with every turn of a page. And when that last page is turned, I love the satisfaction of closing the back cover of the book and taking in the whole story while going through my mind what I loved (or hated — or both) about it.

Now, I love movies as well. However, if given the choice of movies and books, I’d probably choose to read. While I fully appreciate the art behind storytelling in making movies, there is still nothing like imagining it in my head. That’s why whenever I’ve seen a movie that’s been adapted from a book, I will always (okay, nine times out of ten) will inevitably say “The book was MUCH better than the movie!” There are just some things, like plays on words or abstract descriptions, that just can’t be translated literally into a film. And that is one of the things (if not, THE biggest thing) that I enjoy about reading.

Hubby and I started reading Harry Potter in 2000 at the recommendation of an older co-worker, who just happened to work in the Michigan Film Office. She knew that the two of us enjoyed reading and told us that the writing and the universe created in the series was really good. When hubby told me about her suggestion, my first thought was, “A children’s book? Why she would recommend a children’s book?” Nevertheless, we picked up a copy of the first book at the local Border’s store and, while driving around on an errand one Saturday, hubby opened to the first page (I was driving, by the way) and read aloud:

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

I was hooked. We spent the rest of the weekend reading the book aloud; each reading a chapter at each turn. Both of us chuckled whenever we were described something particularly funny, excited when we read about the first quidditch game, sad whenever we were told about Harry’s parents, and incredibly amazed by the turn of events towards the end of the book. We went on to read the next book and part of the third book together.

Being the impatient one in the relationship, I went ahead and read book four that was just published that year in 2000. With the following books, I forced hubby to stand in line with me to get them on the days they were released (July 2003 in Border’s in Chicago and July 2005 at Meijer’s in Rochester Hills). After watching the “Goblet of Fire” movie in November 2005 (book five), hubby finally went back to reading the series; partly because we enjoyed to movie so much, but also because other (younger) cousins and I kept driving him insane about the the ending of book six and speculations about what would happen in book seven which was to be the last book in the series.

So it was this past Friday that we found ourselves once again in line (at Meijer’s in Royal Oak) before midnight to pick up “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Part of me wanted to rush home after purchasing the book and stay up all night reading as much as I can. The other part of me didn’t want to start it, because I just didn’t want to face the end of the series I’ve grown to love so much. Ultimately it was the third part of me that won out in the end: The one that was too frickin’ tired to stay up after having had such a long day. (Hey, I’m no longer that spring chicken that can stay up all night … I need my “beauty” sleep, after all.)

Instead it was the next morning that hubby opened up the book and again read me that first line:

“The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.”

And once again, I’m hooked. And as we are both now caught up with the Harry Potter series, we’re reading this book aloud. In many ways, reading it to each other invokes those same memories I have of constantly reading while I was growing up. To me, it’s such a fitting way to end the story of Harry Potter, a boy who is now all grown up, in the same way we began reading his story. Together.