Originally when I wrote about Jason, my story became too long for a single post. On this post I am sharing the background of how I felt before having children. There was trauma for me remembering my pregnancy and delivery. I also want to share some heartfelt connections and friendships that surrounded this time with Jason.
“Zombieland: it started before having children”
I learned so many things when I started reading my old diaries. It turned out, that I suffered from some serious depression while in my twenties.
I know it was because my life underwent a total transformation. It began when I was married at age twenty-one. I had just graduated college; I had never lived away from home. My life was about my close friends and activities; life was so carefree. I was very immature. After I was married, I stopped writing for two years. I briefly wrote only a few entries after that, and then I stopped for 26 years.
9/20/83 (Age twenty-three)
“Two years. Why did I not write for two years? I can only guess that I felt that there was no experience worth writing about. That doesn’t only mean happy experiences. I used to write most often when I was depressed. At first it was hard to admit not writing. I wanted to a couple of times, but I put it off.
My question now is no longer, “when did I stop writing, but when did I stop feeling?” I feel only sad now, if I feel anything, for the person that died. For Judy, who had so many hopes and dreams and love.
For the past two years I’ve stopped dealing with feelings. For two years I’ve been struggling, but it got bad when I stopped feeling. I never did tell my friends the things that upset me. I never tell anyone anything – and I hardly tell myself.”
“I don’t even know why I’m writing. Any minute now Mike should be home. If I don’t do something I’ll go crazy. I feel horrible – the pain is so great emotionally that I’m gasping and I feel like falling apart. I wish I knew what I could take pleasure in. I’d feel better if I got more work accomplished – but I know better than to work when I’m upset.
I’m alone with my art. I’m sitting in the studio and the tears are rolling as I write this. The art occupies my every energy and everything else is recuperation and attempts to quell anxiety. Will the money make the difference? Not every day is this bad, mind you.
I wish I knew what to do with myself. The ache that I feel hurts so much. I don’t know that I’m angry at Michael for not being with me at this moment. But I’m very disappointed. I’m even disappointed in myself for needing anyone – can’t I be alone all day and evening? I guess when there are few pleasures; it’s difficult. I wonder if I’ll even remember looking back on this.”
2/15/84 (Final entry; Age twenty-four)
“Why do I find it so difficult to write? It’s almost as if I’m afraid to expose myself to me! But here I am – alone, and I have more fear of being bored than of writing.
How beautiful it was that I could just open up and write all of my feelings. I would love to do that again. I just checked – there are 192 pages left to this book and someday they had better be finished! My only question is: will it be in five or twenty years? Reading this – only you know the answer.”
“Something was missing in my life.”
Being that I was the youngest of three children, I was never around babies much. My older brothers had children, and I was only too eager to leave family events to get away from all the annoying cooing and “baby doting” going on. Michael and I didn’t even have pets; we had no responsibilities to anyone beside each other.
The ambivalence about whether or not to have a child made me crazy. Something was definitely missing in my life. Mostly, my immaturity hadn’t prepared me for the isolation of my career. My rationale for waiting to have children was that it would be easier once my career was established. I did become established and successful. However, I spent a lot of time alone painting. It turns out that music had already disappeared from my life.
I had a memory about my recently deceased mother-in-law. Her name was Ruth. Ruth often mentioned to me her reasons for me to have children. I only “half listened” to her most of the time. She knew I didn’t like children. Ruth often said to me, “I never liked children, either. I still don’t! However, when it was my own children – well that was completely different. Once they put that child in my arms; there’s no way to explain that kind of love.”
One day, I surprised my husband. It has been interesting for me to realize, how many decisions were left up to me. I appreciated that quality in him because this decision directly affected him, too. When I was twenty-six years old, I told him I was ready to find out what having a child would be like. I became pregnant within a few weeks.
“I gained so much!”
Almost immediately, my body was not my own anymore. Just before the pregnancy, I had finally figured out how to lose weight. I was at my goal weight and brimming with energy. I realized I was pregnant, because it started with what I thought was the flu. Anyone that has had morning sickness knows what I’m talking about. I was on my way to teach my college, art class, and the room began spinning. I was sick and had to stop teaching.
Every minute I was gasping so as not to throw up. Believe it or not, I didn’t throw up too often. I figured out that the “empty stomach feeling” was the worst feeling. So I made sure to have constant snacks with me at every moment.
The weight piled on. I ended up gaining 100 pounds. The doctors didn’t admonish me, or even appear concerned about it throughout my pregnancy. Having that extra weight to deal with only added to my misery after Jason was born.
I counted the days until this uncomfortable pregnancy was over with. I looked like an inflated balloon. I had itchy rashes all over my legs. I slept on the couch downstairs, because I would scream in the middle of the night upon getting vicious leg cramps.
A few days before my due date, it occurred to me that the baby inside hadn’t moved for hours. I called the doctor, and was told to come into the hospital immediately. I remember the drive to the hospital. It was early dawn. I told myself – everything in your life will be changing soon. You will be a mother on the ride home!
Labor was quickly induced. It became extremely painful and intense. No childbirth class had prepared me for this. Something was still not right. The doctor didn’t like the sound of the baby’s heartbeat. He did a certain test to check the oxygenation on the baby.
Suddenly, I was told an immediate C-section would be needed. I was given sedation for general anesthesia.
Within one second, I went from being in labor to being unconscious. Suddenly, I was conscious, however, I was gagging and vomiting from the intubation. The C-section was underway. However, I was still cut open and the doctor was not finished. I was alone. I was screaming and choking from the tube, but no one could hear me.
After what seemed like forever, a nurse came. She told me that our baby was very sick. A neonatologist was on his way. The doctor’s were “working” on the baby. Someone would finish my surgery soon. I was crying and begging for my husband or parents; they were not allowed in with me. I had a total screaming meltdown, filled with profanity. I was still alone. I passed out.
I was moved in horrible pain to a room with another mother and her baby. I was inconsolable. Michael couldn’t believe I had been given a room with another mother and her baby. He complained. I was moved.
“Friendship and my story”
I was in shock. I was trembling at 3 a.m. as I dialed my childhood friend, Joni. I couldn’t believe it. Only three months earlier, her baby daughter was born with a severe, heart defect called “Tetralogy of Fallot.” We ended up having the same pediatric cardiologist. He once told me that the odds of that were like “lightning striking twice!”
We named our baby, Jason. Jason meant “healer.”
I was told I might be moved to the other hospital where our baby was in three to four days. The doctors decided that it would be good for our baby if I were transferred. I really didn’t care; I was still in shock. It was only a little over a day since I’d had major surgery.
My mother was with me during that ambulance ride; Michael was waiting for me over at the other hospital with our baby. The ride was excruciating; my stitches were raw. I screamed the entire way, and my mother held my hand and cried along with me.
I could not sit up; I did not think I’d walk for a very long time. It seemed hard to imagine straightening up with the pain I was in. I was laid onto a gurney to see our baby. I did not want to know him. I did not want to become too attached. Jason was weak and flaccid. It was impossible for him to suck. I attempted to nurse him once, and with all the tubes it was awkward.
In the hospital room I was instructed how to pump breast milk. I was in too much pain and I made the decision that I was not strong enough. The pumping was adding to my pain. I felt that the nurses were very disappointed in me; their demeanor became cold and icy.
After only a few more days, I was discharged. I remember that I walked hunched over like an old person, and couldn’t imagine ever playing tennis again! I did not visit Jason much, as I tried to become physically stronger.
It was important for our family to have a Bris or circumcism ceremony. The night before that ceremony, our baby came home. Jason would not sleep that night. He would not suck. He cried continuously.
It was 5:00 a.m. before the Bris. Another one of my important life stories intersects this one. My best friend from college who was my maid of honor called me. She and I hadn’t spoken in five years, because we had a rift. She had called to tell me that her father had died; the funeral was that morning. I told her of my situation. The rift was never discussed, but we became reconnected again after that. Her name was Cheryl, and she died of breast cancer a little over two years ago.
The circumcism ceremony was a blur, but I’ll always remember that Cheryl and I were able to be friends again.
We hired our very first live-in housekeeper. She was only twenty years old and her name was Lupe. She did not know any English, but gradually she learned. There was no more privacy in our home. Michael and I were together alone for seven years, so this was a huge change for us. However, it was necessary in order for us to sleep at night. Lupe stayed up all night to feed Jason.
I became very close with Lupe. I learned so much about babies from her.
We lived in Sylmar, and one day there was a strong aftershock. I had never seen anyone flip out like that. She had barely survived a strong earthquake in Mexico City that had left her traumatized. She became hysterical when our house started gently shaking. I had to hold on to her.
Eventually, we had some brief periods of respite from the constant stress of Jason’s illness. We decided to take a vacation to Lake Tahoe. My parents came along. Lupe had never been on an airplane. The vacation did not go well. Jason could not handle the altitude. He was sicker than usual. We couldn’t wait to come home.
When Jason was about 4 years old, Lupe was ready to move on. It wasn’t easy for both of us. She came back to visit a few times. She had a sister that lived nearby. When the amnesty program became available, we vouched for her. Lupe’s life changed because she became an American citizen due to our help. Later her I heard from her sister, that she had moved to Texas. Many years later, she called me. It was possible she might be visiting L.A.; she wanted to stop by and see all of us.
I told her Jason was dead. Lupe gasped. Her voice was tearful as she said, “I feel like I’ve just lost my very first baby! I will never forget my baby, Jason!”
She shared that she was now married and had two children. She wanted to know where the cemetery was, so she could go and see him. She told me that being an American citizen had changed her life; she would always be grateful for what we did for her. One day, I received a huge box from her. It was filled with an amazing array of Tupperware.
I still use some which is a reminder of her.
“To have a heart”
Jason was small, and vomited frequently. I decided to join a “Cardiac Support Group” to find support. I learned that heart defects are extremely complicated. I went to my first meeting. Each parent launched into their child’s defect, and I remember a boy named Matthew and his parents.
Matthew had the same defect as Jason (Transposition of the Great Vessels), however, he had even more problems on top of that. He needed several more surgeries than Jason, and I felt certain that Jason would certainly have a better outcome than Matthew.
After over twenty years, I am still in touch with Matthew’s mother, Helen. She recently shared with me that Mathew is getting married and doing very well. Matthew is her only child. She remarried, and became a devoted step mom. I remember that she went through an incredibly difficult divorce. With grief, I have seen many divorces result.
So the child in the cardiac group, whom I thought had a more severe, heart defect survived and thrived. His devoted mom was very kind to me after Jason died. We stayed in touch.
I have a vivid memory that I feel compelled to share. When Jason was only dead a short time, Helen asked me if I could support her through a difficult situation. She was going through a divorce and felt alone; she wanted me to be there when Matthew was having heart surgery.
For me to enter a hospital so soon after my son had died following heart surgery was a huge challenge. Still, I managed to navigate a huge, medical center to find her and her son. I stayed with her while her son had that surgery.
I think that was truly one of my most difficult days.
I overcame my grief knowing that I did something which would have made Jason proud of me.
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.