First Person: New moms occupied by fears, questions (Columbus Dispatch, May 9, 2015)
She lies on her back, with her eyes covered and headphones on her ears.
The motion of the narrow table tells her she is entering the tunnel, the center of a doughnut-shaped magnet.
It is 4 a.m. on the second Sunday of May 2014. The sun will soon rise on my daughter-in-law’s first Mother’s Day — five days and three hours after the birth of our grandson, Jackie and Pete’s first child.
“You comfortable?” asks the nurse who, minutes earlier, had placed a cold cloth across Jackie’s eyes.
The cold does nothing to dampen the pain in her head, yet the gesture eases her nerves.
“I’m OK,” Jackie replies with a sigh.
She is really not OK, just tired of questions.
The buzzing and drilling reverberate around her head in the metal doughnut, with the noise only slightly muted by the headphones and earplugs. A louder, piercing fire-alarm-like sound burrows into her brain.
Tap, tap, tap — knock, knock, knock, tap, tap, tap, brrrrr.
Tap, tap, tap — knock, knock, knock, tap, tap, tap, brrrrr.
I wonder whether Jackie wants to scream: “Stop! Stop! Let me out!”
She is battling pre-eclampsia, with the symptoms having started during labor and, in the days after delivery, only worsened: protein spilling into her urine; fluid puffing up her feet, hands and face; blood pressure climbing higher and higher; pain pounding in her head and neck.
All has occurred despite treatment with pills and intravenous drugs.
And now: a mild facial droop.
Which leads to whispers: Let’s get that MRI. We need to make sure there’s nothing going on in her head.
I enjoyed my first Mother’s Day when Pete was 3 days old. He slid into the world quickly, easily and with gusto.
What does one do with a boy? I remember asking my young self, as I had grown up surrounded by sisters.
How do I keep him safe? I worried when he started walking and running and dashing and throwing — as I had grown up in a genteel, slower-moving world.
How do I teach him to be a man, to be gentle, to survive pain, to love deeply, to be loved? I wondered as he slipped away from my reach and moved out into the world.
Jackie had yet to have time for such worries.
Forty minutes after entering the doughnut, she is rolled out to the sound of Pete’s voice — soft and quiet, with a telltale bit of anxiety tucked into his calming words: “It’ll be OK. I love you.”
He feels fear in her tight clasp as he walks alongside the gurney, with the soft click-click of the wheels accompanying them away from the MRI room, past the doors of Labor and Delivery, and beyond the nursery to Jackie’s room.
It is 9 p.m. The sun is setting on my daughter-in-law’s first (and my 44th) Mother’s Day — five days and 20 hours after the birth of our fifth grandchild, Jackie and Pete’s first child.
The MRI proves normal. Her blood pressure is lowering, and the medications are working.
Jackie lies on her back, eyes open, listening to the soft click-click of the wooden rocker. She watches my son as he enfolds their son in his arms.
He rocks him back and forth, back and forth, keeping him safe.
Kathleen English Cadmus, 70, of Columbus has five children and five grandchildren.
Searching through old photos, I pause at one of my three sons. They stand in the hot sun at our family campground. A simple lean-to tent casts a small shadow on the dry summer grass, leading me to believe it was probably taken in August, when the hot Ohio sun begins to brown the green of our hillsides, giving hints that school will soon begin, changing the pace of our days.
I know that the picture was snapped by their dad, because going to the campground had become a father-son adventure, offering me a brief respite from parenting, an opportunity to read or knit or spend time with a friend.
I know also that the photo was taken the summer before Shawn died.
All three boys, their faces toward the camera, are smiling. Shawn stands in the middle, wearing a wide smile that gives a hint he may soon break into a laugh or a giggle. He is forever 11-years-old.
Pete, two years older and a few inches taller, stands on Shawn’s right, leaving a small space between them. His smile is relaxed, arms bent, and hands spread and positioned on his waist. He appears as he does when on the soccer field, waiting for the ball to be thrown in, positioned to defend when needed. One long thin leg is relaxed and the other tensed, showing his muscular thighs, of which he took great pride. The white and blue striped tube socks Pete wears give witness to the year being 1982.
Ryan stands to the left, his eight-year-old head reaching just above Shawn’s shoulder. As my eyes move down from Shawn’s face to Ryan’s, I notice that Shawn’s left arm —not visible—must be behind Ryan, resting against his back. Ryan’s shoulder is tucked slightly behind Shawn. Ryan leans into Shawn. It has the essence of a brotherly hug.
I have looked at this photo often, but today I see it differently. And I see more than just my son, who is now gone. Shawn is not the only one in the photo. I see Shawn and Pete and Ryan. I see something of what their relationships to each other were like. I wonder what their relationships would have been over time. As teens. As adult men.
Today, my eyes are drawn to Ryan, a smaller, blonder, quieter version of Shawn.
What was it like to be 8-years-old and lose an older brother? What was he feeling when after Shawn’s death, he told Shawn’s classmates that if they walked him home from school, that Shawn would be there. Returned from the dead. Was it sadness or yearning that Ryan felt when he showed me the posed church photo of the three of them taken a month before Shawn’s death?
“This is my favorite,” Ryan said, adding, “See, Mom, how Shawn has his hand on my arm? He’s hugging me.”
Would Ryan have told the same story … the one about Shawn diving into the water and “saving” his life during Ryan’s aborted attempt to learn to ski … over and over and over again if Shawn had never died?
Studying this happy moment in time, captured thirty-seven summers ago, I can now see snapshots of my eight-year-old son’s grief that was yet to come. Hidden in Ryan’s shy and contented smile is the man Ryan was yet to be. The man he would become, carrying the shadow of a child’s grief:
A husband and father with a two-year-old son who leans into him. And eight and twelve and sixteen year old daughters. And a 15-year old son named Shawn.