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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Don't bend me or I will break

I haven't written in nearly a year. I have so many stories that need to be told, stories that my life has written out in those many moments. Stories that make me laugh, and stories that took a piece of my heart when they marched on. But there's no way to catch up on life lived out, only stand in the present, looking ahead.

And the present, it hasn't been the easiest place to stand. It's not that much of my story hasn't been told before, by working mamas, by wives, by those in professions wherein loss and heartache are the norm rather than the exception. But my own unique experience of those stories...it's an amalgam of the joy and pride I feel in being a mother and spouse, in having a career I should be confident in, and fear and insecurity about the uncertainties of the future, of my own success, value and worth to those around me.

I have the beautiful privilege of walking with families through arguably the most difficult experiences any family will know. It's my job to be something for them that they cannot be for themselves. I've taught myself how to balance being emotionally present with them without shredding the tender pockets of my own heart...at least I thought so until this week. And like I've told myself for the past four years since the last one that brought me to my knees and almost put an early end to my career as a medical social worker, there will be others, surely, that will tap little cracks into the harder shell I created around that tender heart.  Until now, it hadn't happened.

But, now it has. There is a tiny little baby boy in our care who desperately needs a liver transplant. But his body is too sick, too septic and malnourished, to receive one right now. We can't even offer the parents the promise that we will do everything we know of to save him...because we know what to do but aren't in control of when that can happen.

Today, as I walked into his room, his mother curled up in the hospital crib, cradling his tiny frail body in the curves of hers, as though she wanted to crawl inside his skin instead of him. I know that's what she's thinking, because it's exactly what I would do if my baby were in that crib instead. Giving her strength over to him, telling him to fight for something harder than anyone should have to in their whole life, certainly not at 4 months old. And watching her husband, a military man who is due to report back to base in 3 days, hold them together while talking to the physician and asking questions he must never have imagined he'd form words to ask...that harder shell I thought I'd built...started cracking wide open.

Leaving that place at the end of the day, to walk out into the sunshine and play music in my car, drive myself to teach Zumba, to move and push my body to feel alive, to think about my family and what we will eat tonight. To know that my own baby has been missing me for 12 hours, and that is my biggest hardship today. The sense of caregiver guilt has become a battle I had forgotten about fighting. Why do I deserve the happiness and health my family has? Why isn't it my baby in that bed? Thank goodness it isn't...but what does that make me to think?

These are questions I can't answer. They only bring more questions into my mind. Like, how am I going to go back there tomorrow...check the census and scan for his name. Will he be there? Will the conversation with family be one of relief that another night has passed and he's with them? Or will it be one of grief and loss and planning something they never wanted to plan in their lives? Will I hold them up, or will I break down too?

These are the thoughts in my head this week. And then, just like that, I'm also thinking about whether the spaghetti stains came out of Norah's new shirt, and did I remember to brush her teeth tonight, and shoot the car needs gas before driving to work tomorrow. Oh, and she needs milk. Picking out my outfit for the day in my head...only to realize tomorrow that I can't find that belt, and that top isn't really clean. And, oh, will that sweet baby boy be curled into his mamas body tomorrow, or will she have to pull herself away from his tiny, puffy, line covered body for the last time? And, will I break, or will the shell hold this time?