Thoughts on Angelo’s second birthday

We spoiled ourselves silly on Angelo’s birthday.  I always treat the day like a kid’s holiday because one thing Angelo did for us was make us cherish our living sons even more.  But despite all the glitter I sprinkle on the day, I can’t ignore the ache in my heart as babies and death get mixed up in my head all over again.  Sorry to hit you with two difficult posts to read in a row but I’m always trying to help people understand what it’s like for us.

On the eve of Angelo’s second birthday the sun set golden on our yard and lit up Angelo’s garden—the last corner of our yard to catch the sun rays every night. I took pictures of the beauty that has grown there these past couple years, especially of the angel statue on the bench who gazes at the lake and the sunset every night.

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Vincenzo and I walked and played in the woods afterwards and it felt like we were in a painting. One beautifully lit, golden spring evening that would last forever. By the time we got back it was nearly dark and I glimpsed the angel statue again, only now instead of being bathed in sunlight it was covered in shadows and seemed lonely instead of lovely. I wanted to bring it inside to give it the warmth of our house. Maybe to bring it into bed with me to give it my own warmth. But I knew I was as incapable of warming up that stone statue as I was at keeping Angelo’s body warm after he was born, so I left the statue outside. I took a fear of the dark to bed with me instead.

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I don’t understand this whole death thing. Sometimes I battle so much to get the fear of death and loneliness out of my head. On the good days I can convince myself that nothing about death will be lonely because Angelo is waiting in heaven for me. On the bad days I think that’s just B.S.  We die, the end. Most days I can at least convince myself that it doesn’t matter because when we’re dead we won’t be around to care.

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White bleeding heart from Angelo’s garden

But how I hope, how I pray that it does matter…that Angelo’s beautiful, beautiful soul lives in the rays of sun that light up his garden in the day, that turn it golden in the evening, that make the plants bloom and turn their heads toward the very lake where his ashes lay.  And when night covers Angelo’s garden with its unblinking face it doesn’t mean that death has set in, but rather that the sun is busy filling up the other half of the world with its joy. 

I imagine that Angelo’s life served a greater purpose than just to make me a deeper person—that his life changed the world in great ways. That even though his body was broken, his soul is flawless, is ageless, is with me now and will be with me forever, and that our reunion will be even brighter than the sun.

I dream. I want to believe my dreams. My life is overripe with desire.

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Picture of the star magnolia in Angelo’s garden

Thank you for being here for me on this sweet, sad day every year.  So many of you have shown that you really do understand, even though you claim you don’t.  I love you all for that.

Happy second birthday, Angelo.

Two years ago today we gave birth to our angel baby, Angelo.  His story is on my sidebar if you’re not familiar with it.  Someday I want to write a book about this beautiful boy who changed our lives so much—who is still changing our lives—and when I do, the first chapter will go something like this.  I wrote this when I was five months pregnant with Angelo.

It’s funny how the things you’re thankful for change over time. When I was a kid, I remember thanking God for my first pair of real stirrup pants. In high school I thanked God when I made varsity basketball.  In college I thanked God for my success. As an adult, I thank God for good health, for an amazing family, for a sunny day. And in the past month I have thanked God every day that I know my unborn son is going to die.

Not to be misunderstood, I am not thanking God that Angelo is going to die—although surprisingly I have thanked him for that once or twice as well—but I thank him that we are aware of it. That we have this time to love him, to build a garden for him and write poems to him, to teach our two-year-old as much about his baby brother while we still have physical evidence of his aliveness.

I sometimes imagine the delivery room if we hadn’t found out about Angelo’s Trisomy 13 at our 20-week ultrasound. I would have spent the next few months preparing the nursery, having baby showers, dreaming with Vincenzo about what his brother would be like.  I’d be joking about the dates he’d go on with my pregnant friends’ babies.

Then during labor, something would go wrong.  Maybe his heart beat would speed up and he’d be in distress. The doctor would call for an emergency C-section. I’d be scared. They’d remove the baby from my stomach and rush him to the ICU where he would be tested and treated for everything, the doctors knowing something wasn’t right. I’d be worried but I would trust that everything would be all right—it always is, isn’t it?  The doctors can fix it, the doctors can fix it…and then they’d return with my dead, blue, cold baby, shaking their heads and saying they’re sorry, and I would be thrown into such depths of anguish that it would take me years, years, to climb out.

Instead, at 26 weeks pregnant I am buying preemie outfits with angel wings on them and expensive, ultrasoft blankets to lay Angelo in, and I am imagining a delivery that, though sad, is also sweet and peaceful. No matter how Angelo is born, we will have time to love all over him all because we have some idea of what is coming.  And I am so thankful for that.

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Even though Angelo’s death was a tragedy on many levels, we wanted to make sure the world was a happier, lovelier place because of him rather than a drearier one.  Our friends and family continue to help us with that.  My friend had the perfect words for us in a card she sent this year: “We’ll celebrate Angelo’s birthday not in measuring milestones but in remembering the love-filled feelings that exist for someone who you know is special.” 

We love you Angelo.

Happy birthday, angel baby!

Today is Angelo’s first birthday.  We’re celebrating it with an angel hair frittata and angel food cake, and will go to the tulip festival this weekend.  We were gifted with so many white tulips when he was born that I can’t help but think of him when I see tulips!  I wasn’t a blogger a year ago, so I’ll help you understand what it was like to give birth to a stillborn baby by sharing some journal entries from a year ago.

Here’s what I wrote the day before I gave birth:

April 22, 2008

I’m not sure when Angelo’s kicks actually started slowing down. I might have felt him move a couple times on Saturday, then nothing on Sunday. We went to the doctor on Monday and I started crying before the ultrasound even popped up on the screen. I knew my baby was gone. It was so quiet in that room, and even though an ultrasound doesn’t usually make any noise anyway it was quieter than it had ever been. On all the past appointments the ultrasoundist always laughed at how squirmy Angelo was and half the pictures would turn out blurry. Now there was just a baby floating, hand and foot up by his head. I think his face looked different—before I had always seen the hint of a smile or a joke on his lips, I swear, but yesterday he was expressionless.

The next afternoon I went to the OB’s to get induced.  I had this conversation with Vincenzo:

V: You’re going to the doctor’s so they can build Angelo, right?
Me: Honey, the doctors can’t fix Angelo.
V: [giving a yelp] But they need to fix him because he died!
Me: Baby, even doctors can’t fix someone who dies.
V: [hugging me] Then being dead is a very, very bad thing.
Me: Vincenzo, if you died then yes it would be very sad.  But you were meant to live for a long, long time.  This was exactly how Angelo’s life was supposed to be.  It’s right for him.

And the journal from the following day:

Our nurse wrapped Angelo in a blanket and gave him to me and he was so warm, so precious. And so skinny!  He did look like a T13 baby, with the wide nose and flat ears. His sixth fingers and toes were kind of crazy—and precious all the same. His fingers tapered to delicate ends, each with a perfect fingernail on it. At one point his tiny fist was resting on his face in a way that turned the corner of his mouth upward and I saw what a beautiful smile he would have had. The tiniest bit mischievous, like his older brother’s. We never saw his eyes but I know they were blue like Kevin’s and mine.

Dad and Wendy showed up first and Wendy was so genuine, exclaiming over and over again, “He’s so beautiful.” Michelle and Mom came next. Mom was the perfect Grammy, speaking softly to him, and she kissed his forehead—something I hadn’t brought myself to do yet. When she gave Angelo back to me I kissed him over and over again. I kept my hand cradled around his head to remember the size of it, the realness of it, and to give him back some of my warmth. The mood of the whole room was bright and cheery, as it should be at any birth. Dad came last and commented, “He looks just like an angel.”

Our last half hour with Angelo’s body was intensely precious. The family and nurses left while I held Angelo, and Kevin and I cried a lifetime of tears without saying anything. I told our boy what a big deal he was and what a difference he had made in the world. I told him he made Vincenzo into a big brother, and he will always have that. I said we did our best to care for him while he was alive and now that he is dead we will do our best to care for his memory.

And finally we were ready. The nurse set Angelo’s body in a bassinet and covered him gently with blankets. I said, “I love you baby. I love you so, so much,” and she wheeled him away from us. I have done my best not to think of his body beyond that point. I think of him only in my arms.

Thank you all for helping me keep Angelo’s memory alive.  He had such a special, unique place in this world and he definitely left it a changed place.

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*When we found out about Angelo’s T13, we were told of a website called “Now I Lay me Down to Sleep”  that hooks up professional photographers with people in our situation.  We ended up with Jennifer of Bella’s Image Photography, who is an amazing photographer and also now a friend of the family.  Thanks again, Jen!

Feeding the Elephant

QUICKIE: As we pulled away from the ferry dock on Saturday, Vincenzo kept freaking out that the DOCK was MOVING!!
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I might actually write today’s blog from the heart instead of from the butt for once. I prefer funny writing but there’s this huge elephant in my bloggin’ closet that REALLY wants a peanut. (Totally unrelated to last week’s peanut blog.) So here. Here’s your peanut.

Not all of you know that last April I gave birth to a stillborn boy named Angelo David who died of a condition called Trisomy 13. We had known about it early on and were fortunate to do most of our mourning before Angelo’s birth so that we were able to just hold his sweet, peaceful body when he was born. The room was full of happiness and joy instead of fear and confusion.

Since Angelo’s birth I have actually been happier than I have in a long time. I think it’s mainly because I’m sick the entire 9 months of pregnancy, and just feeling good again makes me run back into the world with pigtails a-flappin’. But I have this whole set of worries now that never occurred to me to worry about before—and I’ve always been a worrier by nature. We are waiting for the green light to start trying again, and pregnancy is what I think about in between all the things I say or write aloud. Usually I feel it will be okay, but often I feel like I just don’t know. Being pregnant guarantees me nausea, heartburn, uncertainty, fear, and depression. What it does not guarantee me is a baby. Kevin and I have agreed that we can’t bury our heads in the sand, though, and while we don’t know what will happen next in our lives, we have to admit that we’ve never known what will happen next. Plus, so many other people’s stories end with, “and then we had 3 more healthy children.” I love those stories. (Kevin prefers the ones that end with 1 more healthy child).

Just today’s thoughts, and every day’s thoughts, for that matter. But I can’t leave you all misty-eyed, so here’s a related conversation I had with Vincenzo before bed last night. We had just prayed to Angelo to be with us over these next few months as we get ready for another pregnancy.

Me: Vincenzo, do you remember what I’m like when I’m pregnant?
V: No.
Me: What part of me will grow when I’m pregnant?
V: Your hair!
Me: Touché, smarty pants. But how do I look when I’m pregnant?
V: You look good, Mommy.

Let it be noted that my name is #1 on the list of people Vincenzo has won over by sweet talk. I am so totally in love with my son.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Junk food (Dad’s out so we’re partying!)