How often does one really have the opportunity to truly savor a multi-sensory time-travel? At my small Pittsburgh apartment, I find myself staring at the dollhouse I’ve recently re-inherited just after Mom passed away. Becoming a mom all over again, this time to a daughter just a few months after mom’s passing may be just what re-fuels the maternal.
Once again, I’m that girl again who creates objects made from simple materials: a postage stamp picture frame tacked to the living room wall made from cardboard, a postage stamp and some glue. As I pull out the grimy looking dollhouse from its dusty black garbage bag, I try to remember when I first received it. But all that comes to mind are the girlhood dreams as I unwrap and reposition all the handmade furniture Dad once crafted for me from a kit. I rearrange them on dirty and grimy synthetic carpets. I am refueled with a sense of wonder. What did I love about this dollhouse so much?
As I unwrap the toy chest, I notice a myriad of decals including a teddy bear and train, drum, top, ball, horn boat, and panda bear are still perfectly intact. Time has not weathered the playfulness of their colors. A red colored lid complements the white box perfectly. I lift the lid remembering how it felt to plop all the “toys” inside the chest including a baby rattle and a green and yellow plastic toy truck– both are the size of my thumbnails.
I unwrap the next treasure — a white ridged wall dollhouse with crooked window and door decals. I turn it around and “rediscover” the four equally partitioned rooms. What was I thinking by trying to squeeze a plastic miniature size baby in a room that was just half the size of her leg?
One of the packages contains a hand crafted crib. It contains most of Dad’s labor. I am relieved to see that each of the ten toothpick railings on either side of the alligator and panda bear themed crib mattress are still intact.
Only two years ago, our six year old son would soon 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 had 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.
In the world of fertility and pregnancy, numbers mean everything especially for my “advanced maternal age” at age 43. One unlucky roll of the dice, and we found ourselves at the doctor’s office. My husband shuddered and shook his head while I reached for a hand that tried to hold back his tears.
Together, we sat and agonized over again: Why? How? What did we do?
Our doctor said, “I’m so sorry. I’m just so very sorry. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.” 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.
We 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.
Our grief has eased but I know it will last a lifetime because she is gone – she was the product of love between my husband and I.
But there’s one dollhouse item I’ve managed to miss or even forget — a tiny shellacked cradle just like the ones the Puritans used to remind me once upon a time, hope was not lost. Right after the abortion, we visit a fertility specialist who oddly enough, sees my healthy husband as the potential problem. We entertain the possibility of hope despite falling in love with the sonograms.
I wanted that doctor to understand how important it was for me to give voice to the real person I loved despite the fact I never got a chance to hold her. My husband and I decided to take the fertility process just so far with no in-vitro.
“You see, doctor?” I say one day after finally noticing a poster full of smiling babies in his office. “There’s hope.”
“Absolutely. There’s always hope. At your age too. ”
When our second daughter was born on August 9, 2013 at age 43, I come to terms with the fact that having no sleep and not having the same long blocks of writing and “me” time is a fair compromise for our new baby girl. I’m tired – always tired. At a friend’s house, I caress and hold my newborn baby girl while she holds and snuggles with her newborn boy. We are both over age 40 and complain how little patience we have.
I wanted our first daughter with all our hearts, but not with the pain and suffering that went with Trisonomy 18. Not at all. Our 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 our daughter.