After dinner, as we walked the dark streets back to our car, I confessed something very sad to James.
I said, "I feel like we have nothing to look forward to this year."
I feel like we have nothing to look forward to.
How could I say such a thing?? How could I feel such a thing??
At that time, Henry was 5 months old, which means I was 5 months postpartum. I would not doubt that I was suffering from some level of postpartum depression.
But the bigger burden I was carrying was the pain of coping with Henry's diagnosis. A diagnosis which we were keeping quiet about, at the time, except to very close family and friends. Another diagnosed genetic anomaly in our family. A diagnosis which, at that time last new years, still felt very much like an open wound.
I was grieving. Not for the beautiful baby that was Henry, but for all the things I believed that his diagnosis stole from him. And all the things I believed it stole from our family. I was filled with fear for him and for myself.
Will he ever walk? Will he ever talk? What will he understand??
How can I possibly care for two special needs children?
I am ashamed to admit it, but I feared that Henry would be a burden that I would never be free of.
I also felt guilty for having given birth to another genetically abnormal child. It is still very hard for me to truly believe that it wasn't my fault. I still have my doubts. Maybe if I had been healthier. Eaten more organic foods. Waited longer between pregnancies... maybe I could have spared my youngest child the challenges that lie ahead for him.
I was also angry. How could this have happened to us AGAIN?? Why us?? Why our kids?? It felt so unfair.
I had spent my pregnancy imagining all the things that would be good about having two boys so close in age. I thought our biggest challenge would be parenting such closely-spaced siblings. So the optimist in me was dreaming of all the ways it would be awesome instead of hard to have two little boys. I imagined how much fun it would be to see them running around together at the playground. I imagined that having a typically-developing brother close to his age might help Calvin with his speech development. I thought we'd be able to travel sooner, take family vacations sooner, because we'd be out of the diapers and bottles stage faster than families who wait longer to have their second children.
And when we found out about Henry's diagnosis it felt like all those dreams got ripped away. Henry would not be running around with his brother anytime soon. Henry would not be talking with Calvin or with anyone else anytime soon, if ever. We would not be out of the diapers and bottles phase anytime soon, if ever.
I had also spent my pregnancy imagining how wonderful it would be to have a typically developing baby. I dreamed of being able to breastfeed a baby, of seeing a baby hit milestones at the times that all the baby books say they are supposed to happen, of having a baby that I could fairly compare to other babies of the same age.
And I knew because of his diagnosis that with Henry, once again, none of those things would happen.
For me, the view from last New Year's was dark. I looked at the year ahead, the years ahead, and all I could see was struggle. Sadness. Loss.
I saw doctor's appointments and therapy sessions draining our energy and time. I saw myself dragging through each day, weighed down by the painful feelings I was carrying. I saw us missing out on all the things that would have been possible if we'd been a "normal" family.
I was wrong.
And I spent all year proving myself wrong.
Somehow I pulled myself out of the despair where last New Year's found me.
I took my placenta pills and I saw an acupuncturist to help me re-balance my hormones. I went to the gym. I went to yoga. I started running. I started reading a daily (or almost daily) devotional. I wrote down my prayers. A few friends and I even formed a mama support group.
I had to take care of myself in order to be a good mama. I had to feel healthy and whole as a person, as me, in order to take on the other challenges that I felt I was facing.
The year did indeed hold many, many doctor appointments and therapy sessions, and even a surgery and a couple of hospital stays.
But I made every effort to make sure that our year was also full of days at the zoo, picnics at the park, walks in the woods, and visits to museums and aquariums.
We even took a couple of airplane trips. To Seattle to see a friend, and then to the southeast to visit family.
We made birthdays and holidays special.
And Henry and Calvin grew and learned and were happy.
Calvin started talking. It's very hard to understand him, but his little brain has acquired a lot of language and he is always finding new ways to show us how smart he really is.
Calvin is also daytime potty-trained! He still wears pull-ups at naptime and night, but he wears underpants (adorable tiny Hanes boxer briefs!) during the day and he can use the potty all by himself at home, or tell us when he needs to go.
Though Henry had a rough time with health problems, we were able to help him with guidance from his doctors and with a successful surgery to clear his airway.
Henry learned to roll over. To sit up. To scoot around the room. And now he is working very hard to build up enough strength to crawl and to stand. He works so hard, my little guy.
Henry is learning to eat "real" foods. Table foods, like the rest of the family eats. Over this holiday week he has eaten scrambled eggs and green peas, a buttermilk biscuit, and even some turkey! He is also doing better with swallowing thin liquids like water or formula with less thickener. We may be able to move past bottle feeding pretty soon after all.
When I make sure our days and weeks are filled with fun things to do and interesting places to visit, it's because I want the boys to have lots of chances to see and experience and learn. But it's also because when they look back at their childhood, I don't want them to remember it as just a long string of doctor appointments. When we all look at our life as a family, I don't want it to look as bleak as I thought it would a year ago.
I needed to prove to myself that our life could still be full and rich and happy. That the babies' diagnoses did not rob us of a chance for a joyful family life. That I had no reason to be afraid.
Here on the cusp of another year, I am not afraid. I am grateful. I thank God for my beautiful babies and my beautiful family. I thank God for all the joy the past year brought and for the strength that got us through the challenges. I thank God for all our happy memories of 2014. And I thank God for the lessons I learned this past year.
Now I can see what I could not see a year ago. That no matter what hardships lie ahead, we are strong enough to do the work. And no matter what those hardships are, they are not the whole picture. We will always be able to make space for joy.
So this year, I can say that I believe we have plenty to look forward to.
More experiences to learn from. Plenty of laughter and love.
Happy New Year.