Blood is Not Always Thicker

On October 21, 1996, she was induced, but the pitocin didn't work. On the monitors, I watched as the baby inside her went under stress. The nurses rallied around her, quickly preparing her for emergency surgery. As they rolled her away on a gurney, I got dressed in scrubs and prepared for one of the significant events of my life.

As her best friend and labor coach, I hadn't planned for this. I had planned on doing the breathing exercises that we went to classes for together. But that wasn't to be.

The nurse that brought me into the OR schooled me as we walked together. In the operating room, the C section was under way when I entered. A sheet partition was hanging between her and her stomach so she couldn't see the operation, but she was awake. I sat on a stool by her head and talked with her while the doctors and nurses did their jobs. She was drugged up but conscious. The anesthesiologist asked her if she wanted to listen to some music. She answered "Sure." He rifled through the 6 CDs he had available and asked, "How about Abba?" The doctors and nurses all groaned, "No, not Abba". This was 1996. Abba had been popular in the late 70's to early 80's. They hadn't made a come back yet and this was before "Mamma Mia" the play or movie was even thought of. As everyone in the room voiced their opinions, a small voice came from the table that said, "I like Abba." The anesthesiologist said, "The patient wins. Abba it is" and put in the CD. Up to that point, I hadn't heard Abba in years.

As the doctors worked, I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to see the baby being born or not. I had never seen an operation before and was worried that I might pass out and thus be of no use after. But as I sat in the OR, before I could think about it, the doctor called out to me, "If you want to see the baby being born, you need to stand up and look right now." Thinking I may never get the opportunity again, I stood up quickly and peered around the sheet. Her stomach was clamped wide open. What appeared to be intestines were laying at her side. There was blood. Lots of blood. But within that gory mess of insides everywhere, the doctor reached his hands inside her stomach, enveloped a round ball and gently pulled up. It was the head which came out first, then the shoulders and before I knew it, he was holding a baby girl up in the air. I was asked if I wanted to cut the umbilical cord. To tell the truth, I can't remember if I did it or not. I think I did with the assistance of the nurse. A nurse grabbed the baby and suctioned its nose and wiped the blood away with towels. The baby started to scream, thus letting us all know she was alive. The mother lied there, still unaware that all of this was happening and still unable to see. The nurse swaddled the baby quickly. Everything was happening quickly. It seemed chaotic to me. Surreal that this was happening at all. Again, I hadn't planned for this. For 9 months she went through her pregnancy and I hadn't realized what this would all mean to me.

I watched as her stomach grew, and bought baby stuff, and picked out names. Maybe Ali? Maybe Kendra? Maybe Mia? Out of all the names in the baby books she read, those were the 3 names that she had narrowed it down to. The whole time, my stance was, you'll be doing this alone because I don't want kids. We were roommates and she took this on herself because she did want kids. Her biological clock began to tick away, and at age 39, she bit the bullet and said she wanted to have a baby; someone to take care of her when she got older. To me, this wasn't a good reason to have a child. But she was determined to go through with it anyway.

There I stood in the OR amazed that this was all coming through to fruition. I didn't feel like fainting. There was no time for that. Actually, I felt a spirituality come over me that I had never experienced before. A belief that there has to be a God, to grant women such a gift of being able to give life to another human being. The nurse who swaddled the baby, reached out and handed the baby to me. I held her in my arms for the first time and started to weep. Do you believe in love at first sight? I do. Now. Since that day. I fell in love with this thing in my arms that was blood covered, mixed with a layer of green gunk similar to what's inside lobsters, who looked like a little old man looking person, wrapped in a blanket. I fell in love as only a mother could do. Instantly, I knew my life would never be the same again.

She lied there on the OR table as the doctors and nurses worked to put all her pieces back together again. I sat next to her head and said, "Look, here's your daughter. Isn't she beautiful?" She looked and said nothing. I don't know if it was the drugs she was on or whether she just was expecting the baby to come out all clean, looking like a doll. All I know is she said nothing, while I sat there immediately smitten with this little life I held in my hands.

Sitting there, talking with the baby, all of a sudden I became aware and there it was. A sign from God. In the background, Abba was on, and still playing. As I stood there introducing mother to her daughter, I realized, "Oh my God, the song "Mamma Mia" is playing." In shock, I started to scream with delight that "Mamma Mia" was playing and for the mother to listen. I told her that this was a sign from God that "Mia" HAD to be her name. This was one of her choices. And so it was written. Mia Muscarella was born.

Due to having a C section, she was unable to do much but nurse the baby. She hadn't known how to diaper a baby or give a baby a bath. This was the first baby in her family; the first grandchild, and it had been 40 years since her mother had a newborn and she was basically of no use in the process. I had taken care of my niece when she was a baby so I knew how to do these things. I was experienced. (ha!) So I taught her how to do these things. How to dress her, how to feed her, how to wean her off nursing and move on to real foods. I taught her everything! I even had to sit on her one night to break the habit of her picking her up every time Mia uttered a sound in the middle of the night. Once I showed her that Mia could put herself back to sleep if she just gave her a chance to console herself, she was okay. But I had to prevent her from going into Mia's room to break the habit she was creating.

Speaking of Mia's room, my house was transformed into a playland for Mia. The formal dining room that I always wanted for the full set of dining room furniture that I had was all pushed aside to make that room into a play area for Mia and her plethora of toys. My yard was decorated with big hunks of plastic Little Tykes amusements for her. We set up changing tables on two levels of the house for convenience. Oh yes, my life had changed.

I potty trained Mia by offering her M & Ms as a reward. If I hadn't done that, she'd still be in diapers today (She's 13). I taught her how to walk and to talk. When she was 3 years old, she was telling me a story about the theater and pronounced it "see-ater". Upon disapproval from her mother, I corrected her. I worked with her to overcome the s/th sounds and she speaks beautifully today because I wouldn't let her form bad habits. Was it easy? No. But did I have the patience to guide her through it where her mother had not? Yes.

When it came time to pick out a pre-school for Mia, she went to the school that my niece had gone to. I drove her to school everyday and picked her up from school. I attended all her events at school; attended all her doctor appointments; tucked her into bed every night; I read books with her every night; we sang songs every night; we ate all 3 meals together every day; I took her on every trip I went on. She was not only my Goddaughter. But for all intents and purposes, she was like a daughter to me. There was never a time when Mia didn't come first in my life. And I know this sounds awful, and it's indescribable, but even after my own daughter was born, Mia still got more attention from me. It always seemed like she needed me more and I had to be there for her. To me, she was my first born.

I was also the disciplinarian in the house. At 2 years old, Mia's Pediatrician gave us a guideline on punishment that I never forgot. She said to only punish the child if she was going to hurt someone or hurt herself. I took that to heart. Mia's mother on the other hand, never heeded the advice. If Mia spilled milk, her mother would punish her. Irrational outbursts of "off with your head" moments for things the child did or didn't do that would drive me crazy. So I would step in and protect Mia from these unwarranted punishments. The punishments themselves were things that Mia's mother could never uphold. "That's it, you're not going to the party!" she'd say to the 4 year old standing in front of her dressed up for the birthday party she was supposed to go to. Five mintues later, they'd be in the car driving to the party. The threats went in one ear and out the other with Mia. It was non-effective. But I knew how to fit the punishment to equal the crime. Or at least I knew how to make an impact by taking something realistic away, and most importantly, I would stick to it. It was decided somehow that it would be left up to me to administer punishments, since I understood the concept of NOT punishing the children for every little mistake they made. So I was the bad guy; the disciplinarian. But I always told them I loved them after and hugged them so they knew that making mistakes was okay.

In 2008, for reasons I will not get into here, it became obvious that Mia and her mother had to move out of my house. The friendship had deteriorated and no mending was possible. Let me rephrase the previous sentence. Mia didn't have to go anywhere. She could have stayed and if I had had my way, she would have. But that wasn't going to happen. They moved out and I think Rachel and I suffered the most, left in the house with all the memories. Mia was 10 and Rachel was 6. Mia always said that all she wanted to do was come home and have it be the way it used to be. But the adults surrounding her could never go backward.

For the next two years, we carried out the traditions of having Mia over at our house for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Years Eve with us. We were a family and just because they had moved out didn't change that. However, over the last year, Mia became a teenager. Thirteen. And the only way I can sum this up is, her mother didn't know how to raise a baby, toddler, pre-schooler, pre-teen, MUCH LESS a teenager so things got even more complicated. Coupled with her mother meeting someone and having that person move in with her (That person will remain nameless because they don't deserve to be mentioned in my blog) who didn't/doesn't like Rachel and I. So EVERYTHING CHANGED! Rachel and I were ostracized from Mia's activities and her life. Mia was being brain-washed into thinking that we were bad people. And since she had to live in the same house with the people who were turning her against us, she succumbed to the pressure and started to ignore us.

I ran into Mia at the NFA Art school (which Mia and Rachel both attended. I had sent her mother the brochure and told her to sign Mia up because she likes art. Even though we didn't live together and none of us were talking, I still had Mia's best interests in mind when these opportunities arose.) I was walking down the stairs and Mia was walking up. She was going to walk right past me without saying hello. I stopped her and said, "Hey, you can't say hello?" Very seriously she said, "I can't. My mom will punish me if I talk to you." I'm not sure what emotion came first. Anger? Disbelief? Sadness? Rage? Dumbfoundedness over the absolute stupidity of her mother? I don't know. But I held it together for the moment, long enough to utter the words, "I understand, Mia. Some day when you get older, I hope you'll come to realize how wrong that is." I walked outside and cried. After that, I was constantly conflicted upon talking to Mia because if she did talk to me, she would get punished. She feared the people she lived with and I didn't want to make her home life any worse than it already was.

To make matters worse, as she descended down the stairs that day, she called back to me, in a you're not going to believe this way, and said, "And you know what Sha? I spilled milk on my Mom's kitchen chair and she grounded me for a week." I almost lost my mind. Partly because I couldn't protect Mia from the insanity anymore because I didn't live with her. And mostly because I couldn't believe, or for years didn't want to believe, that the woman who I had considered my best friend for so long could be so stupid.

I had taken care of this person for 13 years who was now standing in front of me telling me she could no longer talk to me. And for what? Because someone's significant other doesn't like me? Because they were jealous of me? Because I had a better relationship with Mia than they did? Hurt the child to get at me? (And now you know why she had to move out, due to ignorant decisions like these that would drive me crazy!)

Not only was I hurting over all of this, but on top of it all, there was never any consideration to Rachel's feelings. Rachel had lost a person that was like a sister to her. They had lived together for 6 years and had a bond. They shared a room together. They went on trips together and were buddies. But because it was always all about Mia, Rachel's feeling were never considered by anyone but me. The moving out was hard on everyone. But the stopping all communication after was unwarranted and devastating to both of us.

For the last year, the traditions stopped all together. Long story, but Mia never came to my house again after telling me on Christmas Eve 2008 that she wanted to spend her Christmas Day at home, meaning her new home. We were crushed. And her mother did nothing to help the situation. Again, no consideration to how Rachel would feel on Christmas morning going downstairs to see if Santa came - alone for the first time without Mia by her side. No consideration to anyone else, except themselves. The word "hurt" doesn't quite cover it. So after that, there was a silent war going on. Mia didn't understand how she hurt us, and I never got the opportunity to explain it to her. And her mother didn't care if she hurt us. So I knew Mia had learned nothing from it.

Through the last year, Mia and I had run into each other and were slowly working our way back to communication. Mia and Rachel go to the same school. So for the last year, I would get to see Mia, little glimpses at a time; quick little blurts of what was going on in her life. "Hi Sha, (that's what she called me. And she's the only one that ever called me that and that's how I want it to stay. I'm her Sha and nobody else's. She came up with it one day and I loved her little voice calling me that.) "Hi Sha. I got my period 2 months ago." "Hi Sha, I went to the movies with my first boyfriend." "Hi Sha, I danced with Aidan last night." (I taught her how to slow dance and didn't get the benefit of watching her carry it out with a boy. The knife in my heart twists.) These quick little casual blurts, milestones in Mia's life, that I was missing out on. It was all so hurtful to me in a way I can not describe.

As an adult, it was a quandary for me. I didn't want her mother freaking out on her for talking to me, but I missed her terribly and had to talk to her. I missed laying on the bed together, telling each other what happened in the day. I missed her running up to me and giving me a big hug. I missed all the major events in her life like boys, dating, blossoming into a young woman. And more than that, I knew her 8th grade year would be coming to an end and then I didn't know when I would ever see her again.

Flash forward to this week. June 21, 2010. 8th grade graduation at school. Do I go or don't I? I had made her a DVD of all little clips of times we spent together so she could look back on it one day, or if she ever missed us, she would have it to look at. I wrote on it, "Don't forget us." I cried the whole time making it. Watching the clips of me teaching both my children how to ride bikes; watching performances that they would put on for us, singing and dancing; all of Mia's "firsts". It was emotional torment but I had to do it. She needed something she could watch to help her remember how important we were in her life, and how important she was in ours. When her mother talked bad about me/us, she could have the video and maybe someday she could make up her own mind on what is the truth.

I decided I should go to the graduation because she will only graduate once and some day this might be all over and I want to be able to say that I was there for her. I cried through all of the graduation. At the end, I wanted to give her her present. She looked like a battered wife, flinching as I approached, putting on a show for her mother so her mother wouldn't think she wanted to talk to me. (Little did her mother know that prior to the graduation, I had to get there early to set up the sound system for Rachel's hearing equipment and Mia came right over to me. We talked and agreed that she couldn't come over to me after the event in fear of what her mother would do. I agreed that I would approach her, this way her mother couldn't get mad at her. Eff'd up, right? But I would do anything to be able to communicate with her. Even if it meant being sneaky. And if this is what she had to do to be able to talk to me, then I was going to do it.)

After graduation, I went home, and just to torture myself more, I watched a copy of the video I had made her and wondered the whole time if she would love it or throw it in the trash because it wasn't a cell phone or some other material present that a teenager would rather have. When we handed it to her, she started to cry when she looked at it. So I know deep inside her, she is still the little girl who loved me more than anyone else in the world. (Including her own mother - and that's possibly where the resentment started and the separation from me started on the part of her mother.)

The day after graduation was the last day of school. I believe I almost had a nervous breakdown that day. I knew that this was the last day that I might see Mia ever and I didn't know what to do. I walked Rachel into school. As we were walking, Rachel asked me, "Mom, do you think that when Mia gets her driver's license in 3 years, that she'll come visit us?" I answered, "I don't know Rach. But that's a great question for her." So we paid Mia one last visit in her classroom. Rachel asked her the question and Mia responded that she didn't want to get her license at 16 because she was afraid of teenager driving accidents. (Someone had obviously instilled fear into her. What else is new? Instilling fear was a regular occurrence.) The three of us talked for about 15 minutes and I cried the entire time. My baby girl was going away and I had so much more to teach her; so much more to guide her through; so much I would miss of her life and she would miss of ours. It is possible that one of us might die before speaking again. And I knew I would never be there to see the rest of her milestones in her life. We wouldn't be invited to her wedding. And worse yet, could my heart handle the short, brief visits that might happen if we ran into each other in the mall?

I told her that I missed her and that I loved her. Rachel, my profound daughter, wise beyond her years, said to her, "Mia, watch the video and you'll figure this all out."

When I walked away from her, I was absolutely heartbroken, as if she had died. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. We were at school and I knew I had to keep it somewhat together as to not cause a scene. But I couldn't breathe. There was no air. And tears were streaming down my face. I walked Rachel back to her classroom. I was a wreck. People were passing by me, looking at me, wondering what was wrong with me. They probably thought I was upset over it being the last day of school. Listen people, I don't need to run to the safety of a bathroom, so that I can catch my breath because I'm so upset over the last day of school! No, it was because I had just kissed one of the most profound, deepest, loves of my life goodbye.

I wondered to myself, how do people that lose their children deal with the pain of it. As much as I was losing the ability to talk to Mia and to see her, she hadn't died. But it sure felt like she had.

I also found it amazing that under such duress, how very few people stopped me to see what was wrong. Those that did put their arm around me or offered me words of support as I rushed past them to get to the safe haven of the bathroom, I truly appreciate your kindness. I just couldn't talk.

I pulled myself together in the girls' bathroom and prayed nobody came in. I left the school and went to work. There, I found the support and comfort of a co-worker who had lived the joys and hurtfulness of raising someone else's child. She had raised her brother's child and could relate to everything I was crying about. She knew the heartbreak of caring for a child, just to have that child turn on her without merit; she knew the rollercoaster ride of them coming in and out of her life, leaving her upset when they went; she knew the anger that comes along with the unfairness of it all, the lack of appreciation for everything that she did for that child; the having to sit back and watch as the child strives to gain the love of the parent that treated her badly, and not care about the one that gave her their heart and soul when they didn't have to. It felt like she was the only one in the world who could understand all these feelings I was going through. Thank God for this co-worker/friend because I truly believe she lifted me out of the depths of despair that day. No small task.

Those of you with kids, you can't relate because they are your kids. And most of the time, even when parents get divorced, they get visitation. I left Mia on the last day of school not knowing when I would ever see her again. Look at your children and see if you could face never seeing them again at the age of 13. Not easy! When children go off to college, usually parents are somewhat seasoned for it by going through the teenage years which prepares everyone for the separation. In my case, this was a premature separation but there was nothing I could do about it.

My Kaneclusion: I raised a child, who I considered to be my own flesh and blood, and then had to give her up and let her go. I realized that I could never be a foster parent even though the thought had crossed my mind over the years. I can't love a child then have to give it up. Not again. My heart can't take another loss like that. And maybe my time with Mia is over, but maybe just for now. Maybe someday, our paths will cross again, and she'll realize just how much we meant to her and what we did for her. It shouldn't have been a choice she had to make. She shouldn't have been forced to choose between the adults in her life, but rather she should have been taught that she has enough love in her to go around to everyone that was in her life. But that's what happens when adults don't agree on what is right and what is wrong. At the very least, I hope she carries the lessons that we taught her through her life.

Thank you, Sheila, for being there and making me laugh over the whole ordeal. Who knew coconut was the cure! :-) And I'm working on those t-shirts - "Everything would be fine if I could just hold on to my anger."

Mia opening the graduation card Rachel made for her.

Mia and I prior to Graduation.


kristin said...

I am sorry that I didn't stop you to ask if you were okay. You are not a person I would consider a crier. I thought that you needed your space and quite frankly I thought you were going to miss Mrs. A next year. I think what you wrote was beautiful. I knew that things have been difficult...I just didn't know why. Mia is a lucky person to have you in her life. She may not be there right now...but the footprints that you left in her life can never be taken away. You are a piece of her life's puzzle and without you she is not complete. Never stop trying and always tell her that you love her!

Peggy said...

Sharon, wow life, never know what can happen, hats off to you for your strength, wisdom and being able to put it into words

Jocelyne said...

Sharon, remember that when you do good things it does comes back one way or another... All the love that you gave her will stay with her... It's just a matter of time before she comes back in your life. Keep positive thoughts.

Sarah said...

Thanks, thoughts are with you still, sending you positive vibes...and now I know why you needed some time to sit and chat. Let's make it happen.