It’s not what you see on television or in the movies, where the woman is screaming bloody murder and, “I WANT DRUGS!!!”, as doctors and nurses all around her yell, “PUSH!”, at least not in my sister’s case. It wasn’t exactly what I’d pictured. It happened so fast. It felt like a blur, but a vivid and memorable one. It was special and it all seemed to happen as it should.
She was quick about it. My sister, true to form, had the baby out before any of us could blink; so quick in fact, it was like we were all almost late to the delivery, including her. I knew it would be a boy, just as I knew it would be a girl for my brother and his wife. Everyone always says they just have a feeling and I did. I just knew it! One moment he wasn’t there, just this concept we all had of what he might be in our minds, and the next he was out and a part of our lives.
I think, as close as we are, she mainly agreed to have me in the room because she could be assured I wouldn’t see anything. One perk of having a sister, blind since birth, was that I wouldn’t make her feel overly embarrassed or exposed. We were expecting a labour lasting hours; I was prepared for a marathon. Instead his birth was a sprint for my older sister, my only sister. It was a relatively easy labour, as labours go.
That August morning, they both awoke early: her to labour pains and her husband to the alarm clock. She assured him he could and should go to work because maybe it was just false contractions. The first stage of labour can take hours that she preferred be spent at home; however, within the hour the pains were so intense she called and ordered him back immediately. I was awakened at 6:00 a.m. with a start by the phone. She was a few weeks early and yet I was not totally surprised.
I was honoured to be asked to be a witness, one of few, to the birth of this child that had been so desperately wanted, yet at such a high price and with so many intense struggles and plenty of tears. The miracle of birth is unmatched in its beauty and magic, yet it can seem like the most natural and ordinary of everyday life events for people, all around the world. This isn’t the case for everyone. It hadn’t been so easy for my sister and her husband.
I was there before the mother-to-be. As I sat and waited for them to arrive, flashes of my poor sister unable to make it and giving birth in their car, on the side of the road flitted through my anxious mind. As I heard her being wheeled past, out in the hall, my fears were put to rest. I hadn’t been waiting very long, but it had sure felt like it!
As I entered the labour and delivery room, the nervous father-to-be had just spilled his bottle of Coke all over the floor. In his excited frenzy, the pop he’d brought in preparation for a long labour and the possibility that he might experience a diabetic low blood sugar, had exploded, at the most inopportune moment. He was scrambling to clean up the sticky mess while I held tightly to my sister’s hand in his place. She squeezed as she fought through the contractions, vowing to refrain from any pain control or epidural. I wondered how her pain threshold would hold up against hours of continuous, growing, and building agony, but within a very short time he was out.
All the chaos and the things that could and did go wrong: doctor showing up late, not to mention the parents, and with Coke spills and alike. I barely got to take it all in. I could only imagine how the experience was for the two of them. She pushed through her contractions, squeezed my hand, and made very little sound, in difference to what I’d seen on television. Suddenly…after less than three hours from when it all began, there he was!
As easy as this all sounds, it was only fair due to how difficult it was to actually arrive at this point. The struggle and the fortitude of the two of them, in dealing with everything they had to bring him into all our lives is something truly remarkable. I witnessed it all from my position as sister and housemate for a good chunk of the time. They had been trying for a baby since they became man and wife, and it had been the longest three years of their lives.
Infertility is becoming more and more an open subject in our society today: with friends and family, in the community, and through media coverage. It is talked about in the open, unlike years ago. This allows for much discussion and the reluctance to talk about the struggle so many couples go through becomes a thing of the past.
Having a baby: it all seemed so normal when teachers spoke about it in sex ed. It was what was supposed to happen. When it doesn’t happen like that, women are faced with the questions and the fears that medical science must try to address and alleviate, such as: What’s wrong with me and why can’t I have a baby like other women? It feels like a sense of failure, that I am not a real woman if I can’t do what a woman is supposed to do. To be a parent is a deeply entrenched and unbelievably strong instinct, from what I’ve seen up close. I’ve felt it too, but can not yet see how it fits into my own life. Being blind presents a whole new set of concerns and fears. Sometimes the answers aren’t as simple as whether or not to have a child. I struggle with this in my own mind, yet still I am left able to relate to my sister and her husband and their own situation in my own way.
I wanted, what my sister desperately wanted, for them and their need to start and grow a family for themselves. I saw it and felt it in the words they spoke and how they spoke them. I felt it in the air after they’re wedding and over time, as I shared a house with them for the first few years of their marriage. I saw it all up close and I yearned for the success of this most important of ventures, the most important they would ever face together. Young newlyweds aren’t usually tested so early on as to the strength of their relationship.
Then came the pressures of doctors visits and the monitoring cycles of ovulation, or lack there of. It was a lot of information, trying to learn all about infertility and its causes; how sometimes there is a reason and other times it is simply known as “Unexplained Infertility”. It really can’t be seen as just one person’s problem or fault. I see so easily how these fears and guilty feelings can cause a rift between a happy couple, so eager to experience parenthood and to make a child, a part of both of them. It’s sad and, like financial problems in a marriage, the intrinsic need to have a child can be the one thing that can drive a wedge in a loving relationship. This wasn’t going to happen to my sister! We as a family weren’t going to let them be disappointed and left empty-handed! I wanted this for them as much or more than anything I’d ever wanted for myself.
It is cruel how much it costs to get what comes so naturally, free and clear to some people. It feels like paying for oxygen – getting pregnant shouldn’t need a category in the budget, where a couple who works hard and only wants a family has to struggle and scramble to come up with the money to pay for medications and the cost of infertility treatments. Not everyone has the resources and the giving nature and spirit as we have in this family, as they had in our parents. Our parents are indescribably generous and kind. They’ve worked hard all their lives to give their children the things we’ve wanted, the things they wanted us to have since we were born. They made it all possible.
However, along with these gifts there comes the inevitable landslide of guilt and worry. As the cost began adding up, thousands and thousands of dollars, so did the feeling of: what if it doesn’t work and all that money was wasted, with nothing to show for it. As the weeks and months of medications and treatments passed, the pressure built. On one such occasion, I recall hearing my sister shaking uncontrollably with sobs of despair. Such a thing rocks one to the core and I hurt beyond explanation for her that night. She feared failed rounds of IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) — a procedure where sperm is injected directly into the uterus. Had that all been for nothing?
They were lucky to find a very supportive and capable fertility clinic. When they were there they felt heard, understood, and taken care of. All the trips for blood work and ultrasounds and the disappointing phone calls, with no baby; it was all starting to add up. Adoption, child fostering, or a life with no children flashed before their eyes I’m sure. Was it all worth it?
When the IUI attempts didn’t work, the next logical step was to try IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) — where the sperm is injected directly into the egg and then inserted back into the uterus. She went through all the necessary steps: the hormones and the needles she (sometimes with the help of her husband) had to give herself, all this led up to a summer of hope and disappointment and pain. We all learned about “Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome” – a condition where the body produces, with the help of medications, many eggs for possible fertilization. In my sister’s case, more than thirty were produced to another woman’s one or two. With this the ovaries are over-stimulated, resulting in extreme illness. She appeared six months pregnant when not even confirmed to be so; all that fluid released by the ovaries began leaking into her abdomen. This is, however, a positive sign of possible pregnancy.
That same summer I was told by a friend of her first pregnancy and I was left with so much joy in my heart for her, yet so much anger towards women like her everywhere, seemingly able to get pregnant so easily. Why then was it so hard for other people, just as deserving of the gift of a baby? Life seemed very unfair at that juncture.
The call from the clinic with the blood results showed good numbers, indicating optimal chances for a positive pregnancy test. My sister appeared to have what she wanted and what we all wanted for her. It was finally happening! It was necessary, at such an early stage, to monitor the numbers and hope they continued to rise. Every few days she would call and things looked good. Yet, things aren’t always meant to be. When a pregnancy isn’t meant to be, it’s probably for the best, but which makes it, nonetheless, a tragic loss. I sat there while our always positive and optimistic mother comforted my sister through her tears. I was off to see a part of the world I’d always wanted to see, a trip of a lifetime with an old friend, while my sister and her husband were left home to deal with the reality of their situation. They’d had a baby for one week and they’d lost it (before most would even know they were pregnant). I left the country wishing them all the love in the world to recover and regroup and move on from this set-back, this terrible loss.
When I returned from Ireland, I saw them ready to begin again and start from scratch, so-to-speak, as I would in a way myself; as green as the Emerald Isle, there was a rebirth we’d all found, that was to come. Once again came the shots, the cost, the trips for the in vitro; with the retrieval and the implantation. They tried again with the love and the hope we all felt for them. This time they would be successful! This time they would have the baby they deserved!
At this same time I met my good luck charm, my lucky rabbit’s foot, the one I’d been waiting for. I held him tight, grateful for finding this person and having him in my life, hoping and praying that the same would be said for the baby we’d all been waiting for. I had been waiting for them both.
This time was different and this time it was going to work! Again she saw her numbers rise with each phone call and it was a positive pregnancy test. Miracles were indeed possible. Again she began to fill with fluid, having to get it drained multiple times, and as she appeared several months pregnant at only one or two, we watched the whole thing begin again.
Just prior to this she had written a piece about the struggles they’d gone through for the fertility clinic’s website and I was honoured when she asked me to read it over for her. We all cried to hear of the suffering she’d gone through and what perseverance they had both shown to get here. She wanted this as much for her husband, who wanted so much to be a father, as she’d ever wanted it for herself. It was difficult reading about how badly she wanted to give her love a child of his own to love. She described it all with such truth and honesty. I knew I would do whatever I could, be there for her, and one day it would pay off.
She showed up at my door, after one of her appointments at the clinic: nauseous, holding a bowl, and rushing to the toilet. This was a violent reminder that things were on track. I was around and able to sit with her during the days when others could not. I watched her continue on in this state, for weeks and weeks. This would be the last Christmas she would be without that precious child she’d longed for. I needed to look after her and that sweet baby so sorely wished and waited for, which now grew inside her. As she suffered, she knew, and we constantly reminded her of the worthwhileness of it all. It’s easy, in a way, to fight through just about anything when such wonderful things are to come out of id.
As the news of twins was announced and then the news that one alone showed up on the ultrasound, it was devastating, but how could we be sad when there was a baby to look forward to; yet still the loss of that one precious life was a loss just the same.
As time passes, the memories fade and it all appears worth it. The pregnancy soon resumed a somewhat normal state. My sister was able to experience everything other mother’s-to-be take for granted, even if she’d experienced things a little backwards. The moderate morning sickness for some is a nine-month-long ordeal for others. I learned a lot about pregnancy by observing it’s effects firsthand through my sister and sister-in-law during that time. My limited experience of such things came, previously, from television and books, but this was my family and the people that I loved. Infertility was such a lesson that I had never known. The loss of miscarriage and negative pregnancy tests was so devastating that I wondered how anyone recovered, yet it was, I saw, indeed possible. That light does shine again.
Our Reed is that light! As he grows, I am introduced to a whole new world of firsts and joys. As an aunt, it is my greatest honour in life to get to watch the children in my family grow. He is a miracle for certain, with his beautiful blue eyes that will undoubtedly someday win girls’ hearts everywhere. It reminds me of an Amy Sky song, Ordinary Miracles:
Just ordinary miracles, ordinary miracles
But all the same, they’re miracles to me
The days that I’ll remember well,
Have a simple kind of wonderful of ordinary miracles?
A simple kind of wonderful
The sweetest days are always full
Of ordinary miracles
Each time I hold you near;
It’s an ordinary miracle.
As he passes his first birthday and the milestones begin to pile up, I am surprised at how fast the time really does fly by. He has developed a personality and highly evident characteristics. My niece is a year-and-a-half ahead of him in the transformation of childhood, her new baby brother makes three. I look ahead to their futures and I treasure every moment I get to be witness to all these things, as I see them with the other four senses I still possess.
I had a lack of prior babysitting experience that one often accumulates during their teenage years. Most parents around might not have been too eager to leave me alone with their children, but now I am given a chance to prove myself just as capable as anyone else. I’ll admit that the diaper changes and alike aren’t my area of expertise, not that such things are impossible. I am given a chance to learn from these tiny people, just as they learn themselves, that life is workable and to give up on things one wants isn’t really an option. My siblings give me the opportunities I need to learn how to take care of the children that, undoubtedly are more important than themselves. They know me as their blind sister second, and simply their sister first; I am Auntie Kerry to their children. I hope to give my niece and nephews things in life, lessons that other children might not get: about perseverance, the outlook that it is possible to triumph against anything that stands in the way; that there is more to people than at first glance, to be discovered if only one gives it a chance.
As he grew he became a little boy with his own voice and his own personality. I wanted him to know me, to see me often enough that I am one of those people he can count on seeing, to be there for him. For young children familiarity is key. I intended, from the beginning, to be around always and forever, giving him little choice in the matter. If I come off pushy, it’s only because I wanted to be a part of his life. From the very start I would be someone who is always just there, all he’s ever known.
All that work it took to get him here with us and we never forget it, as he grows and learns. The experience I’ve gained this past year has been invaluable. I have a comfort with children that I’ve never before had. Just as I’ve stumbled and received bumps and bruises along the way, falling and learning how to get right back up again, he’s also received these lessons. I watch him and protect him as if he were my own, my sister’s most prized gift. I would give my life for that kid and I like to think we’re buddies. He looks at me as a playmate and a pal, someone he can count on and I hope he always will. When he grabs a hold of my hand and we walk, when he laughs out loud at something I do, I store those moments in time away in my mind and heart. I am blown away at the miracles of modern medical science and what it can get us. It’s miraculous where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. Those long gone from our lives, ones we’ve loved, would be amazed at what has taken place and the sweet child we now love. He’s here with us and I hold him close and feel him breathing when he’s asleep in my arms. I thank the doctors, nurses, and technicians for their dedication to achieving this most precious outcome. His tiny fingers in mine, that is perfect happiness to me; the sound of his giggle is the sweetest music and purity personified.
As we come full circle and he’s now taking his first steps, we eagerly await with anticipation the new words he begins to speak and the sweetness that is our Reed. I feel sad when I realize he’s growing up before our very eyes and I will miss rocking him to sleep when he is too big to be rocked. Time doesn’t stand still. It gives me hope for anything, that all is possible, that you just never know what’s around the corner. Something so sweet that was once not here is here now and life is inconceivable without him. The children in my life are gifts, more precious than gold. I see them not with my eyes, but with everything else in me and with everything I have to give to them of myself.