Sunday, May 29, 2011

Forty Eight Hours Later

When we finally found we were pregnant on March 25, 2011, the time couldn't have been riper - what joy it would be for our six year old son to finally have a baby sister! But from the moment we received the genetic results on May 16th 2011, it seemed I was doomed.

Our baby girl had Trisomy 18. An extra chromosome. Three of the #18 chromosome instead of two. It turned out that one little #18 chromosome has more power than all the others put together. It is a tiny tornado, packing a destructive force stronger than life itself.

We quickly learned that half of all babies born with this condition die in the first week of life. 90% of them have heart defects. Most of them have other defects as well, including spina bifida, cleft palate, deafness, joint contractures, and mental retardation. Only an unlucky few survive beyond a matter of weeks, and those don't last much longer. The term that is branded in my brain from our meeting with my OBGYN is "incompatible with life". I was carrying a child that was incompatible with life. How could it be?? As soon as it hit the outside air, it would begin to die. She. "It" was a she. We could tell that from the genetic analysis too, of course. She was doomed.

My husband and I quickly signed the abortion papers. We both knew we couldn't face the thought of birthing a baby girl only to watch her die in agony. This was the right decision. We had no doubt in our minds. I was not the typical abortion patient, and yet this was an atypical situation for us.

From week six to week thirteen, I had fallen in love with the sonograms. Our baby girl was very much a real person despite that -- MY person. I loved her. I love her still.

The two days we had preceding the surgery didn't give us any time to contemplate what was going on. There were papers to sign and I had to get mentally ready by fasting and resting.

The thoughts of the moments prior to the operation room are still so clear. I remember the anesthesiologist saying, "Here is some happy medicine," and then wheeled me off. They then rolled me unto the surgery table and I said, "Please g-d, make everything okay. Please take good care of me and my child." And they said, "We will." I let them do what they had to do by putting my feeble body in their control and care.

I woke up from the general sedation as they moved me into the recovery room. Without my glasses, I tried to make out the dimly lit room. I heard buzzes and beeps, and a monitor took my blood pressure every 7 minutes or so. I thought, "Yes! I'm alive!" The doctor came in and said everything went okay and that I did great. I was so grateful for that since I really did not know what to expect.

But two days later, I have found myself online again grieving a baby girl that I never got to hold. I hope she knows how much she is loved and that one day I will get to be the Mom I never got to be… for her.

I want her to know that we wanted her with all our hearts, but we didn’t want her to have the pain and suffering that went with Trisomy 18. Not at all.

However, it's hard to still move forward when I read terms like,

"Only an unlucky few survive"

"She was doomed"

"what was left of their defective baby girl"

"this ruined life"

"the mutant child"

My baby girl was not doomed. She was not a defective baby. She was not a ruined life. She was definitely not a mutant child.

She was my daughter.

I am still in the grieving process and I don't know how long it will last. It is funny, but I feel like I love her even more after our decision to have the abortion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Just Thirteen Weeks

I knew something was terribly wrong when my OBGYN called me at 8am yesterday morning and asked, "When would you be available to come into the office?"

Not good news. Not good at all.

I had already entered our second trimester. Much of the morning sickness and fatigue had subsided. All that was left was worry. And lots of it.

My husband's face was full of consternation when he arrived from the Chabad across the street following his morning prayer. I looked at the poor man's face - what could be worse for him - knowing or not knowing? For me however, I had enjoyed the two weeks of silence from not hearing the results from the genetics testing. Maybe it was because I gone through so many genetic tests in Israel with my first, that I was all tested out. Maybe it was I was still indulging in the pregnancy feeling that I didn't want anything to wave me over... who knows?

My husband's fear however, quickly caught up with me and I started to join the "panic and worry" club. The weather too, put a dampen on everything with its endless grey, rain and overcast that Pittsburgh is known for.

On the bus ride to the hospital, I had made a pact with myself that I wouldn't tear up unless it was absolutely necessary. After all, I had work-for-hire packets to send out, proposals for presentations to write, blog posts to write...After all, the week had just started and we were away in Florida the previous week for the International Reading Conference and Disneyworld....

Once at the doctor's office, I realized that I hadn't brought anything to read and being I am not one to waste time, I started making "to-do" lists for our trip to Israel. I was constantly asking Haim questions about this and that making sure that not one detail was left untouched. I heard the doctor's undulating voice in the hall and looked at my watch. We had been waiting exactly 30 minutes. For my husband, it was 30 minutes too long - for me, it had become to be a waste of time.

But it turned out that it wasn't a complete waste. In those thirty minutes, I had set my intention that I would react peacefully to whatever the doctor had to say. In a ritual of simple list making, I was already thinking ahead, planning myself for what may be in what was just an ordinary moment.

"The news isn't good," the doctor said when he finally came in. And at that moment, I knew all of our dreams were gone including the 13 weeks of the seed of life.

Then, there was a litny of words that I would much rather not hear uttered again in this lifetime.... an extra chromosome, the worst abnormality, severe abnormality, little chance of survival, at-risk of the mother's life, brain damage. At this point, my husband put his hand to his face and shuddered....I can't go on....

But one major thing hit me yesterday that will change me (us) forever...

People can never EVER understand what it means to go through an abortion or any life changing event (medical or something else) unless it (G-d forbid) happens to them.

For me personally, (and I think for dh, too) this news was like a "curse" as if someone had sponged up a chorus of broken and awful and evil energies and squeezed them out on us leaving us broken and in pain, left to pick up the words and emotions where we started from....

We are Jewish and for both of us, this news was earth shattering. As Jews whose influences were predominantly traditional and secular, we perhaps go the opposite in some halachic (laws) areas but, believe still in pursuing these kinds of tests due to my advanced maternal age. We believe in life and perpetuating its continuity. What perhaps distinguishes us from non-Jews, is that we don't believe in 'rocking the boat'. It was shall I say, "expected" that I would deliver to full-term and we would not talk about the pregnancy unless I started showing and people started asking. For this simple reason, we don't believe in having baby showers.

"It's G-d will," my husband said as we signed the consent for abortion to go through. "It's G-d will. What will be, will be."

"This has to be done, like, soon," I said with urgency, determination and confidence that I had never known could penetrate through my weak voice. "We're going to Israel in three weeks and this must be done way before that." Yes, let's get this over, let's clean it up, let's forget about it and hope that it would never ever return.

The amicable and amiable doctor said, "We could have you in the earliest by this Thursday. That is really the earliest we can do."

And the doctor in charge of surgery said at the end of reading all the things we needed to know as far as the law in Pennslyvania goes, "you can take the tissue home and have a private funeral."

Private funeral? Are you crazy? We are Jewish - why would we want to do that?

"No," I said. "We're giving it to the hospital for research. Maybe you can save another baby's life..."

I noticed the doctor made a note of that. "So are there any questions? Anything you want to know?"

"Yeah," my husband said. "What was it... a boy or a girl?"

She said tenderly and thoughtfully, "It was a girl," as if the procedure had been done with and there would be no more.

And that's when the tears came streaming down my face. Against everything I wanted, I cried for the crushed dreams for MY baby girl I would never see, never dress up in girly clothes and never have deep serious mother-daughter talks who, at just thirteen weeks old, would be just a remnant of a memory.

But when there's a will, there's hope. It would still take me time though to figure it out...


By the next day, (today) I realized what I would be going through and a good friend from Ivry's class called me. Her voice was so good and so thoughtful, I couldn't help but cry. For 24 hours, I had blocked out everything just to not worry and cry, but now it seemed, I couldn't help it.

"Don't worry, Dorit," she said. I will go with you."

It was a voice from G-d. Suddenly, I felt it was now or never. I would need to arm myself with my tribe in order to go through with this ordeal.

And I'm still calling out to that tribe now.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Building Roots – New York City – Israel - Pittsburgh

When we first moved to the United States in August 2007, we were inundated with possibilities. Where would we go? Where would we live? Part of me wanted to live on the East coast, so I could be closer to my mom.

As a returning American with a brother on the west coast, I wanted to build roots. But not having lived in the States for the previous 17 years challenged our decision. We didn't know anyone in Pittsburgh, and moving back to New York City to stay with my mom who had Alzheimer's for the last 13 years was out of the question. Plus, who in their right mind, would build roots at the expense of going into debt?

The arduous task of uprooting and replanting required the gift of time. Time to get to know what it was like to live outside of Israel as a American Jew, not an Israeli. And this meant leaving the small kibbutz comfort zone and getting to know an American mentality that I had so quickly forgotten.

But one thing was for sure – I had no idea what to expect from Pittsburgh. I had never been that far out west before except to visit my brother in San Diego and the farthest I had ever been up north was New Hampshire. One sultry August afternoon in 2007, while trying to keep cool in my Mother's New York City apartment, I had learned our shipping containers had finally arrived from Israel. I called the New York City office and requested to reroute our shipping from New York City to Pittsburgh. The clerk had asked, "Pittsburgh? You're moving to Pittsburgh? Where's that?"

I tried to stay composed and not let the feelings of uncertainty and insecurity enter my voice. I said, "Oh, Pittsburgh? You've never been to Pittsburgh?"
"No." She had a pure New York City accent - only that reminded me of my childhood. "Nope, I'm a Queens girl."

After hearing that, part of me wanted to stay in New York City. It was easy and comfortable and anything else but daunting. Now at a crossroads, the decision to stay in New York City was looming over me as if I had just made the biggest mistake of my life.

Weeks later, when we finally settled into our two room apartment in the heart of Squirrel Hill, a multicultural community, people started asking, "Pittsburgh? Why did you come to Pittsburgh?"

And like I had done years before when Israelis would ask me, "Why did you leave New York City?" I decided to mentally "tape record" my answers. I would say, Pittsburgh = a family friendly city, Squirrel Hill = Jewish community as if I had been living in Squirrel Hill all my life.

And then there were other tag along words I call the "itys" I would use such as affordability, proximity to New York City, accessibility…

All of these answers at the time however, seemed squeamish even for a returning American. The only difference was the way I had successfully convinced everyone (even myself) of our decision using just the right body language and eye contact, as I tried to feel like a special American all over again. All those years surviving as an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher in an Israeli cultural classroom made me realize that I could survive anything including the feeling of living with uncertainity as a returning American trying innocuously to build roots.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

First Night of Concrete on Wightman Street

Maya took tiny steps towards the apartment building on the corner of Hobart and Wightman Street. It was in a small residental but busy neighborhood in Squirrel Hill of Pittsburgh quieted by the lull of last August rain that she had not anticipated.

She needed an apartment to bring her husband and two year old son from New York City right away knowing full well they couldn't live with her mother-in-law any longer. Not having an umbrella, she climbed the first then second level of stairs to the entrance, the size of a bathroom. She had to get used to the fact that there was no competition in building height - after all, this was not Greenwich Village where every inch of realtor space was fought over and carefully planned out.

As she waited for the real estate agent in the foyer and shook her umbrella, she survyed up and down Wightman Street. Nothing more than a corner apartment building, she thought. But then she saw something that changed her mind. From nowhere, black hatted men scurried like mice across the street to the Yeshiva school. In Israel, they were always rushing to get somewhere which was part of the scene, but here in the Diaspora, they didn't have to prove anything. She continued to observe more men and women entering and leaving shul until she finally made the connection - today was Tisha B'av, the destruction of the temple.

In Israel, living on a secular kibbutz near the Jordan River, she never observed the holiday despite the fact that she knew the name, but never knew its significance. Maybe, one day, I'll understand. Maybe, I'll even go to synagogue. She knew she wasn't part of the amcha, the Israeli people anymore so long as she did yirida, leaving Israel. That's the way it was in the Diaspora. Here, you were first Jewish and then Israeli. (That was even a bonus!) But now, she didn't seem to care so much.

When the realtor finally came twenty minutes late with no advance call to Maya's cell, Maya wondered if she was really in America again, her homeland, after all these years?

"Oh, are you Maya?" the realtor asked. She was wearing high pink heels that clacked when she walked and Maya decided already she looked very cheezy.

Maya offered her a dry cold hand. They shook gingerly.

"I'm so sorry that you've been waiting. I would have been on time, had I not had last minute car trouble and my cell phone battery died."

She fished in her green mountain purse that looked ike a burlap bag.
"Now where are those keys?"

Once in, the only thing that appealed to Maya about the apartment was the glass doorknobs, and arches that separated one room from another and carpet on the floor. In all her years on living on kibbutz, Maya had forgotten the nicety of carpeted floor. Definitely pre-World War Two, she thought.

She quickly surveyed the apartment. Aside from the fact that the ceilings were very low, and the rooms were slightly smaller even for Israeli standards, she thought it was by far, the best apartment she had seen in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. She had compromised getting a house with French doors that opened to a garden. Her flight back to New York City was just in a couple of hours and she needed to make a decision.

After a short series of cell phone calls, Maya and Yoav settled on a date for the first month's deposit and filling in forms, before Maya took the keys when they first settled in.

On the first night in their new place, the water was shut off due to a main water pipe that had blasted in Pittsburgh and no matter how long she turned on the air-conditioning, Maya couldn't get cool enough. She tossed and turned on the borrowed mattress where the spring poked into her sides until Maya finally gave up and rolled unto the synthetic carpet.

Her husband's lukewarm hug was no consolation either.

"We'll get some furniture soon, baby. Our shipping will come in through. Kitzat savlanoot, some patience."

"It's not the furniture," Maya blurted outloud. "But the concrete. There's no nature; we face a bunch of concrete buildings - a dry cleaners, an old age home - what kind of consolation is that?" Despite her fear, Maya hushed the panic part of her voice and even startled herself. She had a feeling that the walls were as thin as paper and didn't want to mar the start of what would be a hopeful future.

"It won't be as bad as you think - just give it time," Yoav had said.

For that first night, Maya forced to give into hope and optimisim she didn't know existed. It fortured her to know that Yoav didn't think much of trees, flowers and the Jordan River, the very things she had sacrificed to come to the States and leave a piece of heaven in Israel. The ironic part was at age eighteen, she had left New York City, a world that championed itself on high rise concrete of materialism.

She never knew though how much she would miss it, and how she would ever get used to noisy buses, thin papery walls.... and concrete!

She turned her back as she usually did when she felt she could not be consoled, and could feel the ears welling up in her eyes.

He slowly touched her back, and showered her with kisses just like on their wedding day, until she mewed and then rolled into his arms. "You won't need to worry so much about concrete, dear Mayaleh," like he did on the day when they first renovated their kibbutz house and when he wheeled her first born son into the nursery.

"I've found a job!"