Tuesday, June 2, 2009

i would like to love you

we had always hoped they'd have a child first.
when Thomas' brother called with the news that they were expecting, we were so happy. due to various reasons, we'd always hoped they'd have the first grandbaby, that they'd experience parenthood ahead of us. and honestly, when Thomas told me, i felt a wave of relief: now it can be our turn, i thought; now i am free to become pregnant. and then i was, a few months later. and then i was not, a few months after that.
we always were happy for C & K. that did not change at all for me when we lost Tummymuffin. i sort of focused on "at least there is still a baby coming for the Bertling side." it was while i was in that ancient stone convent in the mountains of Abruzzo that he arrived. it was the day after my epic battle to finally let Tummymuffin go that little Tom came into the world -- a different baby with the name Bertling on his wrist. i was happy and devastated at the same time and it was utterly confusing. at first, i couldn't look at the photos of him without sobbing. then i went into a sort of numbness about him; he was a baby 6000 miles (9650km) away with no relation to me. Thomas' brother called: will you be his godparents also? he asked, in a gesture of trust and love between brothers that was nothing short of historic. i continued to feel strange. i didn't feel like an aunt, or a godmother, or anything.
actually, what i did feel was just weirdness, weirdness and strange guilt and the disappointment of being cheated again out of loving a baby. i simply wanted to be happy for them and happy for us that we have a nephew, but of course you can't parse the complex messy reality of emotions into neat categories. i felt full of apology: i'm sorry Tom, you won't have a cousin right away; i'm sorry mother-in-law, you can't come to the doctor's office and see the ultrasound and come back to America in July; i'm sorry Mommy, you aren't the one who gets to be a grandmother. and i'm so sorry, Thomas, you won't be holding your own child in just a few months' time. i don't know why i felt so apologetic towards other people's phantom losses, but maybe that was a natural part of accepting that Tummymuffin wouldn't be coming back, ever.
we planned a trip for late May; Tom would be three months old and we needed to meet him and spend some time with C & K. when i would picture myself holding him i would start to shake and cry silently. this is not good, i told myself. i put a photo of him on our refrigerator and would talk to it. hallo, Tom, i'd say. Ich bin deine Tante Erika, und ich möchte dich liebe. i'm your auntie, and i would like to love you. this helped. a little. i tried not to panic as the date of departure came and went.

i am here to tell you that Tom is, of course, adorable. he's big for his age, over 7 kilos (almost 16 lbs)! much to his parents' amazement. he gurgles and grabs your finger like a lifeline and burrows his head into your shoulder and snuffles around. in other words, he's like any other baby. but unlike any other baby, this one will hopefully be part of our lives for a long, long time. this one bridges unseen gaps in the family; gives us a rallying point for our disparate lives, and brings us together in our love for this little drooling person.
i can't say it was easy meeting him. watching Thomas hold him, spin him around, cuddle him wasn't initially emotion-free. feeling how easily he fit into the groove of my baby-holding woman hips, how instinctively i could calm him, breathing in the smell of the top of his head -- that wasn't so easy either. but it was easy to pleasure in the astonished joy of the parents, to take ownership of the love for him that is mine by familial right, to choose to step into this delicate new network of connection.
i'm still sorting through the whole experience; i've had to ask myself how honest this reaction is -- for some reason i thought i would possibly find more painfulness than i'm letting on to. maybe i will as i continue to pray and journal and talk through it with Thomas. or maybe i'll be surprised that i can hold on to this tenuous feeling of happiness for a baby; it tells me that i am getting better at not playing the Let's Compare Everything to Your Loss Game, in which i am always the loser. the truth is that some days are better than others, but isn't that life in general?
welcome to the family, Tom. now i'm not the newest Bertling anymore.

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