It struck me the other day that each of my pregnancies has coincided with a period of intense family crisis. During my first trimester with Princess H, my Grandfather -- I was going to say "beloved Grandfather," but that's just utterly inadequate to describe my feelings for him or the relationship we had -- passed away after a stunningly short battle with cancer. Six weeks after that, our dad's car malfunctioned and sent him careening off of a mountain road. He fought valiantly and I genuinely thought he was going to pull through. But ten days later, he, too, was gone. I remember being terribly sick before my flight to Denver the next morning, and not knowing whether it was grief or pregnancy. Over the next months, anticipating the arrival of our first little wonder was the lone sparkle in a very dark and difficult chapter.
Very early one morning the next September, Two called me from her hospital room at Johns Hopkins, where she and her doctors had been fighting off acute right heart failure brought on by her IPH. "I have lungs," she said. When my sleep-deprived, again-pregnant brain finally processed what she was saying, I grabbed a toothbrush and a change of clothes, kissed my husband and sweet baby girl goodbye, and drove like a crazy woman, hoping to get to Baltimore in time to be her "plus one" on the medivac flight to Cleveland. On the plane, Two was in good spirits. Even though she was tired, she exuded her signature radiant energy. We didn't know what we were getting into that time. In retrospect, this was a very good thing. In addition to her transplant, Two unexpectedly needed massive heart surgery, too. Her surgeon later confided that she was one of the sickest patients he'd ever brought out of surgery alive. For six agonizing weeks, Two lay deep in a coma, walking a tightrope between this life and the next. I cannot count the times I ducked into the ICU bathroom to protect Tiny Baby (in my belly) from the daily x-rays used to screen for blood clots. It was one of the few concessions he got during those long, surreal months.
So, here we are with Baby Number Three looming large(!), and Lung Transplant Number Two just behind us. This time around -- mercifully, miraculously -- things seem so much brighter. Given all the pre-transplant trauma, I don't think any of us were prepared for this remarkable, thrilling recovery. Of course, Two makes the grueling process look much easier than it is. No question, this is a long, hard road. But last time she climbed Everest.
I'm not entirely sure what my point is. Maybe this: In many ways, these are the defining challenges of my adult life. They have stretched and pulled and torn and changed me in ways I couldn't have anticipated or imagined. But looking back at the last four years, it's not the pain or grief or fear that define how life has changed. The rebuilding and reshaping of my soul in the wake of these totemic natural disasters occurred in the wild new context of motherhood. The resplendent joy Princess H and Tiny trail from their chubby little dirt-stained feet play in contrapuntal harmony with all the tragedy and crisis like a Baroque fugue. It leaves me exhausted and in awe, stronger and more grateful than I was or thought possible before All This. The sleepless nights and backaches and tantrums are very loud reminders that the only things in life that are really worth doing, are usually really hard. I realize this isn't a groundbreaking revelation -- people have been saying it for ages. But learning it for myself still feels surprisingly cosmic.