Against the wind

We are frozen in. Our unplowed, non-arterial streets hide beneath sheets of treacherous ice. Our nights plummet to single digits and our wan days scramble and dig their crampons into the slick walls of the thermometer to climb to freezing.

I’m not afraid to drive in slippery conditions. I understand the need to temper confidence with caution, when to creep along and when to hit the gas and scream obscenities at the person in front of me because OMIGOD IF YOU DON’T GUN IT WE’RE ALL GOING TO LOSE MOMENTUM AND GET STUCK SLIDING BACKWARDS DOWN THIS HILL, YOU DUMBASS, but the heavy, full-size, rear-wheel drive van has bested me just as Matt so annoyingly predicted it would.

“You will hate this van in the snow,” he warned at the dealership.

“I’ll figure it out.”

There is nothing to figure; it’s a matter of friction and weight and uselessly spinning rear tires.  I got it stuck three times the week before Christmas and managed to wriggle my way out of complete catastrophe by rocking it, gunning it, and once by stuffing my floor mats under the rear tires to find purchase on the ice pack.  Last Friday, with school out, all four kids buckled in the back, and a mile-long list of errands to accomplish before my sister and my parents arrived for Christmas, I couldn’t back out of the driveway no matter what I did.  I rocked and shoveled gravel under the tires only to get stuck another foot back. I made it to the gate, but feared the final push, my skill for turning into the skid challenged by the mirror-image trickery of driving in reverse. The kids alternatively cheered and whined and asked when we were leaving while I tried not to bite their adorable little heads off of their shoulders.

In the end, I did what I do in all moments of intense, immature, first-world frustration. I called Matt and cried.  “I have so much to do,” I sobbed, “I have errands.”

“We can do them tomorrow.”

“I can’t sit in the house all day with them.  I just can’t.”

“We can trade it in.  Or I can look at four-wheel drive trucks next week, so you can have the Suburban on bad days, but today you’re on your own.  If you can get it out of our neighborhood, I think you’ll be fine, the main roads are plowed.”

“I CAN’T GET IT OUT OF OUR DRIVEWAY!”

We both knew it was more than another day in the house with the kids.  I wanted the big blue van for a lot of reasons – many of them valid. I wanted to be able to carpool.  Matt and I have been talking about becoming foster parents for a long time and I wanted a van that would make that possible if we decide to do it.  But somewhere, deep in my psyche, I also believed, really believed, that we would still get that last baby I longed to have. Despite the three years of tears, the surgeries and the acceptance, I imagined that we would buy that van, start the final paperwork for the foster program and find out, miraculously and against all odds, that we were pregnant.

I knew it was ridiculous and unlikely and fairytale-ish and then it fucking happened.  Not quite four days after we signed the papers.  And so all talk of whether the van was right or whether we should trade it or keep it was intimately linked in my mind with the pain of August and the grief of the last four months.

It put me right back on that table, cold against my bare butt with the neonatologist on his swivel stool to my right and Matt crammed into the narrow space between the table and the wall to my left, holding tightly to my hand.  The doctor stared gravely at the screen that connected via unseen wires to a multi-million dollar super-ultrasound machine.

“Are you sure?” I whispered.

“Very.  100% certain there are chromosomal abnormalities incompatible with life outside the womb.”

Incompatible with life.

“This pregnancy will end in stillbirth, which could be very dangerous for you with your history.”

“But how are you sure?  How do you know?  Is there some way that people … decide.”

I expected math and science.  Statistics.  But what the hell did I care for statistics now? We had already won the lottery of horrible pregnancy outcomes.  We had a 98% chance of a healthy baby.  Yesterday.

In one of the kindest acts offered to me in my lifetime, he met my eyes and answered.  “Well, I think of it in terms of potential for joy in life.  Any joy, no matter how small. To find comfort in your arms or taste ice cream for the first time.”

“And this baby’s potential for joy is?”

“Zero.  If somehow this baby were born alive, he might live a week in horrible pain.”

Zero.  There is absolutely no way to know.  Not until you’re standing naked under the harsh white spotlights with the coin in the air.  Then, just like Phoebe taught us all, then whether you are willing to admit it or not, you know which way you want the coin to fall.  Underneath the crushing pain and the disbelief that this was happening, running like a current through our hands where we clutched each other tightly, I felt in that moment a measure of relief at his certainty in the death sentence. Not that we wouldn’t have cherished a child not matter what, done anything to find that joy, loved for whatever short time we had, but I felt wondrously relieved that the option wasn’t there. That I wouldn’t be forced to know the pain of giving birth and letting go.

It’s a fine line between faith and folly.  Somewhere on the winding road called “Never Give Up Hope” you can take a wrong turn into “Banging Your Head Against An Invisible Brick Wall.”  I learned something in that awful moment: the harsh truth that what I wanted – and expected – was not whatever came, but rather another perfect carbon copy of Matt to love.  I know we would have risen to the challenge and loved no matter what, but I felt relief that we didn’t have to learn our limits.

Sometimes, we stay on course out of faith and hope, but sometimes, it’s stubbornness. Clinging blindly to three-year-old plans doesn’t let us look around and adjust to where we are.  Every good captain has to recognize the difference.  If the tail wind is driving you straight toward the rocks, it’s time to come about into the teeth of the storm.  There’s no other way to change course.

In the driveway, I cursed the ice and the fates and the stars until I laughed. We little mortals are so funny in our futile toils.  I unloaded the kids and put them in front of a show, took a much needed break and then stood, surveying my small battle with the elements.  The thing was, I needed to get the van turned around.  I wasn’t confident enough in my skills in reverse, but if I could hit it moving forward, I knew I could floor it out the gate.

The space was so tight between the garage, the pick up and the rocks that it took me 30 minutes to turn, inch by painful inch, but finally I had it facing the gate.  I hit the gas and corrected the skid until the back tires burned through the ice and found the gravel beneath and then we shot through the gate and into the street, the van and I triumphant, where I left it running and blocking the entire road while I collected my chicks and reloaded them.

The pathology report said trisomy 13.  The day it came back, I folded around my grief and cried for hours, but then I nodded and found my peace.

I called my sisters and asked them to travel with me for my birthday week.  On my fortieth birthday – the day my last baby was due to be born – we will be on horseback in southern Portugal.

I’ve nearly finished the paperwork for the foster program, but we’re not quite ready.

Yesterday, Matt bought a very, very used four-wheel-drive truck.  So that I can have the very, very used Suburban on really bad days.

For now, the blue van stays.  No need to abandon ship entirely, just patch a few holes and fix the compass.

We’ve turned, inch by painful inch, to face 2013, March, forty, and all that comes after.  The wind feels good in our faces.  I hope you too feel ready for all that lies ahead.  May the odds be in your favor and may you see the rocks and come about before you run aground.

Thank you for walking beside me through 2012 and holding me up.  Happy New Year, my loves.

49 Responses to Against the wind
  1. Cyndy
    December 31, 2012 | 7:09 am

    As usual, you leave me fumbling for words.
    Your writing blows me away EVERY TIME.
    Fostering just seems like the most wonderful perfect thing for your family.
    Also? SO glad I live in Florida.
    Happy New Year!!! xoxo

  2. Amelia
    December 31, 2012 | 7:14 am

    As a fellow NON snow bunny and very longing mama this speaks to my soul.
    You are so strong. So capable. Such a wonderful writer. Thank you for this.

  3. Laurel
    December 31, 2012 | 7:27 am

    I drove a Ford 15 passenger van for 20 years (3 different vans). They were NOT good in ice and snow. With my van fully loaded with my 8 young kids (before more kids came along), I did the “slide down the hill backwards” . . . only to get to the bottom with a hill on either side. Stranded with 8 cold, tired, and hungry children . . . so.not.fun. A man with a pickup offered to pull me up the hill (my only option at that point). His only concern, “When we get to the top I hope we can stop before sliding down the next hill.” Yes. It was kind of a rollercoaster road (not a good choice in a full size van in the snow).

    After 4 kids got married in 14 months (with other adult children moved away, too) we finally “downsized” last year to a 8 passenger Ford Excursion 4×4. Oh. My. We LOVE it!

    We had lived in Whatcom County for 10 years and never gone to Mt. Baker in the winter (because the BIG van just wasn’t compatible with snow). We went up 3 or 4 times last winter and have already been up sledding this year, too. Oh.So.Fun. to drive a 4×4.

    So sorry for the pain. As you know . . . I understand.

    Hugs!

    Laurel :)

  4. Deb
    December 31, 2012 | 7:28 am

    I thought of you that day, when you were on Twitter, railing against staying home and deciding to go out anyway, and wondered if you made it through your day safely. I’m glad you did. I am also glad you made it through the wretched roller coaster of 2012, and look forward to a much happier 2013 for you and your family.

    Happy New Year, Stacy.

  5. Sheila
    December 31, 2012 | 10:37 am

    Thank you for your use of the English language. Thank you for being willing to allow us to read of your life. Thank you for transporting me to the van, the exam room, Starbucks, your home and so many other places in 2012.
    Happy New Year to you and all you love.
    May 2013 bring you all you need.

  6. Maud
    December 31, 2012 | 10:45 am

    Thank you for your blog, your bravery, and your words.

  7. tracy@sellabitmum
    December 31, 2012 | 12:51 pm

    Happy New Year, my friend. We are here. I may suck pushing out a stuck vehicle in the really deep snow but I have other merits of life. And we are here. I love you. xoxo

  8. Alison
    December 31, 2012 | 1:20 pm

    You’re stunning. Your writing is stunning. Your spirit is stunning. I need to come here more. It’s a little like a workout because I’m always breathless at the end. In a very good way.

    Happy new year to you and your little chicks.

  9. Not a Perfect Mom
    December 31, 2012 | 1:37 pm

    Tracy posted you on Facebook….and I’m glad I found you…
    what superb writing, for sure…

    And I’m so sorry about your baby, I can’t even imagine the loss…my last one was born with Down syndrome but before that was confirmed it was a list of every potential chromosomal abnormality that she may have and we were advised to terminate when I was 23 weeks…so though I don’t know exactly how you feel, perhaps just a tiny sliver I may…

    Looking forward to reading more…

  10. andy
    December 31, 2012 | 1:44 pm

    Wishing you and your amazing family a wonderful 2013 full of joy.

  11. christine
    December 31, 2012 | 2:25 pm

    Oh breathless. Wishing you joy in the new year!

  12. hokgardner
    December 31, 2012 | 2:32 pm

    And happy new year to you.

  13. Erin
    December 31, 2012 | 3:14 pm

    I don’t know what to say, but I have to say something. Your words are so beautiful, in spite of your pain. I am forever, always, in awe.

  14. Korinthia Klein
    December 31, 2012 | 3:20 pm

    I wish you peace and joy in 2013.

  15. Mel
    December 31, 2012 | 3:21 pm

    I have thought of you many, many times in these recent weeks. I, too, just miscarried a baby. I, too, was well beyond the point when things should have been safe. I, too, did not hide my heart. The wind is blowing hard on me now. I’m not sure I’m ready to turn into it yet, but it helps to know that it’s possible to.

    Hugs to you, dear friend. And may all of the blessings and joys in life find you and your family safe and happy in the new year.

  16. Loukia
    December 31, 2012 | 3:50 pm

    I hope you all have a wonderful 2013… hugs and love and so much goodness. xox

  17. Lyndsay
    December 31, 2012 | 4:09 pm

    Nothing I can say can do this post justice. Beautifully written Stacey, as always. I hope the unpredictable wind blows you to places more beautiful than you could have imagined.

    xo

  18. Shannon
    December 31, 2012 | 4:28 pm

    This story, your story, leaves me feeling… I don’t know. It just leaves me FEELING. Which, in my opinion, is what great writing does.
    I, too, will turn 40 in 2013. Turning 40 on horseback with sisters in southern Portugal sounds like a very good idea.
    I hope that 2013 brings you peace… and above freezing temperatures.

  19. Candice@NotesFromABroad
    December 31, 2012 | 4:54 pm

    The sad thing about saying something to a person who is sad, is that there is nothing that really makes a person un-sad.
    Not anything that can be said.
    So I Wish for you , Peace, continuing Good Health and Happiness with Matt and your little tribe and anything extra will be counted as a Bonus .. a Happiness Bonus !
    Love you. C

  20. Jan
    December 31, 2012 | 6:29 pm

    My god, but you write beautifully. I’m just sorry it’s so laced with pain right now.

  21. K-Line
    December 31, 2012 | 7:41 pm

    Oh, what a year you’ve had. I can’t begin to offer any kind of meaningful response. There’s so much wisdom in this post already. But I wish you a wonderful 2013. One in which there is life and liveliness in everything. xo

  22. Marguerite
    December 31, 2012 | 7:43 pm

    Are you sure you went to Law School and not Journalism School? They way you can put your feelings into words, and have so many people relate, is just amazing. I wish you and your beautiful family the happiest New Year and may all your dreams come true!!

  23. Carolyn
    December 31, 2012 | 9:44 pm

    This was absolutely beautiful. Thank you.

  24. Ellen
    December 31, 2012 | 10:18 pm

    Here’s hoping for nothing but the best in 2013 for all of us!!

  25. Mama D
    December 31, 2012 | 10:19 pm

    I would have held onto the van too…practical or not, it was a tangible symbol of hope and to get rid of it would be almost like giving up on many different dreams at once. And you did figure out how to get it (and your perspective) turned around. Cursing followed by laughter is the best way to go! I like the image of the wind in your face as you look 2013 in the eye tonight…wishing you balmy breezes literally and figuratively. :)

  26. Suzanne
    December 31, 2012 | 10:47 pm

    Beautiful in the midst of the pain and agony. I send you hugs because I share a kinship for driving in the snow and ice when it feels just too challenging to even get into the car (we’re in Erie, PA). I hope the new year brings you happiness and everything else that you deserve!

  27. Shiri
    December 31, 2012 | 11:41 pm

    Stacey, all of us out here, we don’t often get to read something so true, honest, beautiful, and brave. Thank you.

    With hope for a better New Year.

  28. Issa
    January 1, 2013 | 12:00 am

    I’ve read this now three times throughout the day, waiting for the words in my head to come together. But they aren’t. They just aren’t.

    So I’ll leave you this: I love you. Next year will be a good year. I can feel it. I mean heck, I WILL GET TO SEE YOU! A thousand hugs to you my beautiful friend.

  29. Marie
    January 1, 2013 | 12:03 am

    Your words… they moved me and left me with tears. Thank you for that priceless gift.

    Here’s wishing you & yours the best of the best in 2013.

  30. Louise
    January 1, 2013 | 3:09 am

    The way you know yourself is truly breathtaking. So few of us can look at ourselves the way you do – gently and kindly. Thank you for being a teacher. Much love to you and your family in the coming year. xo

  31. jen
    January 1, 2013 | 5:49 am

    i’m sorry that your heart is still hurting, friend. eventually, there comes a time when grief throws you to the ground & you stand up realizing that you hadn’t felt that for some time. & it turns into a mix of sadness & guilt & sunshine. all rolled up tightly within your heart.
    may 2013 bring the year in which I get to enjoy your company. in person … oh how beautiful that would be. xoxo, friend.

  32. Minivan Mom
    January 1, 2013 | 4:45 pm

    Beautiful post. Happy New Year sweetie.

  33. magpie
    January 1, 2013 | 10:27 pm

    may 2013 be smoother and sunnier for you and for all of us.

  34. Molly
    January 1, 2013 | 11:12 pm

    I love you guys. That’s all I can say.

  35. Tara
    January 1, 2013 | 11:41 pm

    You are gifted at expressing the deepest parts of pain … it makes me sad that in order to express them this well – you have to experience it first.

    I’m so sorry for this grief and the frustrating speed at which grieving and “healing” happens- it always feels like one step forward – one step back to me – the two steps forward part seems more rare. It (grief) does its own thing and without our permission and that part really sucks too.

    I turned 40 this year. From my vast six months of experience at it, I want to assure you that you will OWN 40 – your resilience is evident, your power to courageously face “the next thing”, so obvious. Thanks for writing it.

    May those horses (and sisters) in Portugal celebrate you well!

  36. Christy
    January 2, 2013 | 1:42 am

    You are such a very gifted writer! I leave your blogs unread on my RSS feed so that I can read and reread. Thank you for sharing your talent with us! Happy New Year to you and your family.

  37. Mama Mo
    January 2, 2013 | 6:22 am

    This is my favorite kind of post… the everyday intertwined with the exquisite. And you do it so very, breathtakingly well. Thank you for sharing your life and your words.

  38. Galit Breen
    January 2, 2013 | 1:34 pm

    Wow.

    You take my breath away every.single.time.

    You’re in my heart.

    Inch by inch, indeed.

    xo

  39. Marinka
    January 2, 2013 | 3:50 pm

    So often I’ve thought that life doesn’t make sense. That some people have such horrible pain and suffering. And then I read your words and I feel less alone.

    I hope 2013 is good to you and your family. xo

  40. Lady Jennie
    January 2, 2013 | 4:41 pm

    Love you so much Stacey – you and your big heart that just wants more children to love.

  41. Alexandra
    January 2, 2013 | 6:34 pm

    We do what we do. There are always choices. I think of how others decide on something differently, and I have to choose my way.

    It’s because I know myself best, and what it takes, and even if no one else knows the strength and determination it takes to just be here one more day, it doesn’t matter–because I always know.

    I know me, and I am never going to give up.

    xo

  42. wendy
    January 2, 2013 | 8:10 pm

    I loved your post. I always do. I love your plan for your 40th birthday. Quite jealous here. Happy New Year!
    (btw: i think the word you are looking for is not capon, but crampon – which is an ugly word imho and seems like it would mean something else. I didn’t want to say anything but you know that friend that pulls the size stickers off your new clothes because you didn’t see them and you are glad they did? That’s me.)

    • Anymommy
      January 2, 2013 | 8:23 pm

      Totally crampon. I googled it. Which really does sound like something that should be uncomfortably related to the menstrual cycle!

  43. Allison
    January 3, 2013 | 2:21 am

    Thank you for sharing. I can feel your pain through your words. I wanted that baby for you so badly and I’m sorry it didn’t work out. Beautifully written.

  44. Alexicographer
    January 3, 2013 | 10:23 pm

    I can’t really improve on what Allison just above me, said (or indeed a number of others). Out here, valuing your words, feeling your pain, and grief, and, too, joy. Here’s to 2013 and horses in Portugal.

  45. But Why Mommy
    January 6, 2013 | 9:34 pm

    As usual so beautiful. I can relate to that desire, that hope against hope for a baby. There was a time last summer when I thought I was entering early menopause and I was happy because that hope for a baby would be over. I’ve been considering another adoption or fostering but I’m not sure.

    I hope that 40 on horseback in Portugal will be wonderful for you.

  46. Yolanda
    January 8, 2013 | 10:54 pm

    Beautiful, as always. Wrapped and woven and laid bare.

    :*

  47. rachel
    January 13, 2013 | 12:18 am

    This brought me to tears, like so many of your posts do. I hope your birthday is absolutely phenomenal, and I am so so so sorry for your loss.

  48. Clare
    January 20, 2013 | 12:15 pm

    This was such a beautiful, heart breaking post. I wish we could have done more for you during this very sad thread that wove throughout your 2013.

    this paragraph in particular was so moving: “Sometimes, we stay on course out of faith and hope, but sometimes, it’s stubbornness. Clinging blindly to three-year-old plans doesn’t let us look around and adjust to where we are. Every good captain has to recognize the difference. If the tail wind is driving you straight toward the rocks, it’s time to come about into the teeth of the storm. There’s no other way to change course.”

    Portugal sounds lovely… I have heard nothing but wonderful things. I also hear it doesn’t snow much there either:)

    enjoy Portugal

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