Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Value of Literature


I'm side tracking from my usual blog posts because I have a story that I need to release from my inner being. On December 5, 1997 I was 34 weeks into my pregnancy with my second child and I started spotting. Being absolutely clueless that anything could truly be really wrong I called the doctor and he told me to go to the hospital. I packed the diaper bag for my 18 month old, called my husband to come get us and nonchalantly called my mother- who being much more in touch with the real world said "I'll meet you there."

I was taken back and immediately they used the monitor to find the heartbeat of our baby. There wasn't one. The shock that followed was immense. There was no indication whatsoever that there was anything possibly wrong with this baby or this pregnancy until that morning. All ultrasounds appeared normal, I had one completely normal child, it wasn't on my radar that anything could be wrong. We were then told that we would have to deliver the baby and I was taken to a delivery room and given meds to cause me to go into labor. I remember asking, "can't you just take it?" but the answer was no and the process began. The waiting room filled up with our friends and family in shock with us. I mourned. And then the geneticist walked into the room to do a second ultrasound. As she started explaining what she saw, including the fact that it was a girl (which we had chosen not to know up to that point), she explained all the birth defects she was seeing. Our sweet Grace Morrow  Davis had a cleft lip, a shriveled hand, a club foot and the kicker was the cyst on the side of her neck that was bigger than her head and probably caused the heart failure that led us to the hospital that day because her heart couldn't pump enough blood through it and the rest of her body without going into distress. Baby Grace was riddled with birth defects (and these were just the ones that they could see on the ultrasound) and I was completely unprepared for the next few hours. Quite honestly, I feared her.

After countless hours of labor it was time to deliver our Grace. My doctor was out of town but another doctor who I loved dearly and who had delivered our Jessica came into the room. He had known me for years because I had actually been his accountant. He sweetly came into the room, rubbed the top of my head and asked if I was ready. I wasn't, but it was time. My mom stood on one side of me and my husband on the other. We had made a pact, none of us were going to look at her at the birth, we would look at her together. As I started pushing the most startling thing ever happened, baby Grace exploded out of my body spraying the room with all the things that come along with birthing. Dr. Ordonez was as shocked as we were and he was covered in blood. And then nothing happened. There was no small cry that I had been hearing from the other rooms around my birthing room. There was no excitement and joy. There was quiet- the loudest quiet I had ever experienced. The nurse whisked the baby out of the room, the doctor left with her and I wailed. I hadn't really let loose until then but it was like I had been hoping beyond hope that they all were wrong. They were not.

Dr. Ordonez comes back into the room and tells the nurses to prepare me for a D&C procedure. My mom hugs me, my husband holds my hand and I am wheeled into the hallway outside the operating room where my delivery nurse walks up and says "I know you wanted to see her but if you are considering having any more children I would suggest you don't. She looks like a monster." And in that split second I looked at my husband and made a decision that would be with me for the rest of my life. I said, "I don't want to see her. The vision I have in my head is of a perfect child." They wheeled me into the OR and I looked at my doctor and said "I'm about to be sick." He said, "put her under." My next memory is of my mom going off on a group of nurses wheeling me into a hospital room because they were trying to transfer me to a bed but the IV was pulling out of my arm because they forgot I had it in. I heard my mom saying "hasn't she been through enough" and saw a large majority of my family standing behind her in shock. I fell asleep in grief.

The next day a hospital psychiatrist came by and tried to lead me through the decision of whether or not to look at Grace before I left the hospital. She politely weighed the options for me to have that time with her and when it was all said and done my husband and I decided to have photos made of her to look at "one day" if we chose to. We never touched her or saw her. We then had a graveside burial service for her and that chapter of our life shut with the same feeling of shock as it began 2 days before.

To this day that time of my life feels much like a bad dream. Surreal with very real emotions. There are a lot of extra stories I could add here, both humorous and sad, about the next few days but lets just leave it with it was the hardest thing I had ever been through. To this day I have a beautiful box sitting in the corner of my kitchen that contains all the cards we received during that time and somewhere deep within is a sealed envelope with photos of Grace Morrow Davis, who never took one breathe on this earth, that my husband and I have never looked at even though she would now be 20 years old.

I was immediately angry with God and then trying to make sense of it all I decided it was what was best for Grace because she would not have had the quality of life we would have wanted for her had she lived. For 20 years I have wrapped my head around that idea and tucked it away and then 2017/2018 happened. God works in strange and mysterious ways and uses others and things to talk to us and through us. Social media gets a bad reputation but it can also be used for good. Time and time again my life shows the rollercoaster ride that social media can cause.

In 2017 I watched another much younger mom sharing the lose of her child that immediately reopened that time period of my life with Grace. I reached out to her on social media and loved her as best I could. I also watched another younger mother give birth to triplets- one of which had a cleft lip and saw her acceptance and love for him as he was and their journey in getting it fixed for him. In 2017 I saw a chapel talk posted on social media given by a senior at CCS that has craniofacial anomalies and watching that shook me to the core. The joy she had in her life due to the love she has for her heavenly father, the support she has from her amazing family and her ability to focus her life on the positive allowed me to look at her and think to myself "she is perfect." All the 20 years of what I had been telling myself about Grace started pushing against me like a storm. All the guilt I had from never holding her and somehow letting her know I loved her (at least in my mind) came crashing in around me. And so I started to let myself look differently at what I had held as beliefs about her and I started to look for ways to open my mind farther. Here enters the book called Wonder by RJ Palacio, which by the way is currently in theaters as a movie and on my list to see- but maybe from my sofa.

I'll be honest, I wanted to read it at a time when I could allow my emotions to come if they needed to so I had been putting off reading this book until Christmas break. Our sixth graders had read it first semester and been given some amazing experiences by actually communicating with the author. It was in the forefront of my brain as a must to read most of this school year. If you aren't familiar with it this is how School Library Journal describes it: "August, nicknamed Auggie, is a 10-year-old with a facial deformity that causes others to avoid and even shun him. When he enters a mainstream school, Auggie must learn to cope with difficult new situations and new people. The narrative is told from the perspectives of Auggie, his new friends, his sister, and her boyfriend. Steele's Auggie is raspy, quick, and delivered in a conversational tone, while Rudd and Podehl give a full range of vocal performances that bring the remaining characters to full light. α(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted."

Isn't it interesting when a long held belief or idea is suddenly shook as possibly not right in our lives? Or we live to a ripe age of 48 (like myself) and we realize something for the first time and we think "how did I not know that?" That's where I am. These sequence of events with the final culminating event of reading the book Wonder has caused me to question all the things I had accepted regarding Grace and why she did not live. But in that questioning, for the first time ever I have also come to a place where I realize I don't have to have a reason any more. With everything that happens in our life we often feel we need to know the WHY. As an educator I actually am on a quest to start discussions and lessons with the WHY because it helps with acceptance.  But here I am saying I don't feel like I need to know the WHY of Grace anymore. I also feel like had she lived, she would have brought value to my life but even in death she has brought value to my life as she has caused me to see life for the fragile moment it is. She has caused me to empathize with the lives of others and support them through some hard times. She has caused me to see beauty as something so much deeper than accepted social norms. 

I sit here writing this post and thinking about those photos in that beautiful box. I'm toying with the idea of taking them out and looking at them. Here is what I know, due to the book Wonder and the chapel talk of Elsie Corbett I know that if I looked at those photos today I would be able to view them differently than in the past. Circumstances change us but so does literature. I find myself questioning "what is normal? and who defines it? And maybe just maybe those that aren't normal are what brings wonder to this world."

When students tell me they hate reading I find myself thinking "you just haven't found something that resonates with your soul. Be patient my friend. Keep trying." I'm thankful for the love of reading that is inside of me and for the gifted authors that help me to see outside of my comfort zone both personally and professionally.