I’ve seen my daughter every month since November. I’ve seen my daughter seven times in seven months.
It’s everything I imagined it could be.
It’s nothing I ever expected.
The not expected part comes from the fact that I was told, in not so many words, to never expect such a thing. The unethical facilitator through which I placed told me the most I could expect was letters and pictures for a year. We forged our own road. We chose what worked for us. We worked our behinds off for years, for over a decade, through some really hard things. And when my daughter and her mom walked into the restaurant that November evening to surprise me, I didn’t know it would kick off a monthly visit for the lot of us. I didn’t think it was possible with the schedules all of us as adults keep, not even taking into account school and extra-curricular activities. A year ago and a half ago, I really didn’t think anything like this would ever happen. But we’re making it work. We always make what works for us work for us.
The boys seem over the moon about it. When I reassure them that, yes, they’ll see their sister the next month, it seems to make leaving—or being left—a little easier. We’re still dealing with a lot of sadness on their part about the fact that we don’t live all together. We’re doing the best we can, making room for sadness and grief alongside the joy and excitement.
As for me, well…
It’s even hard admitting that it’s hard. But it’s hard.
It’s not hard while I’m there. Oh, I love being there. With her. With her mom and stepdad. With their sons. With my sons. With all the dogs. Even when the dogs bark and the baby cries and and the kids are yelling things at video games and I get a little bit of sensory overload, it’s so good. I know that when I take a five minute break upstairs, I can come back downstairs and all three of my children are under one roof.
I feel that feeling even more when they are here, when all my children are under my roof. It fills my whole soul up. To hear them chattering as they fall asleep in the room next to me, to hear their voices in the hall in the early morning, to feed them food that I’ve made. The food thing is big to me. Like, really big. It’s one of my ways that I show love to people: I make them food. To do that for my daughter, her mom, my sons, and my husband—all at once—fills me so full.
It gives me a sense of peace.
It’s short-lived peace, of course. Because the hard comes when I pile my sons and all our stuff into my car and drive us away from their house. I immediately pull into Dunkin Donuts and order myself all the caffeine and anything my boys want; they’re already crying and I’m already fighting my own tears. I don’t worry about my daughter; she is in an amazingly loving home in which she is supported, loved, and cherished. I don’t worry about her well-being. I don’t worry that this is our last visit. I don’t worry about any of those things.
Instead I’m slammed with guilt. Two crying boys will do that to you. The questions they ask will gut you. “Why can’t we all live together? But how sick were you? Weren’t you sick when you were pregnant with us too? So why did you keep us?” Explaining the nuances of support and fear and anxiety and depression and regret are hard; they’re eight and ten and understand much more than most eight and ten year old kids. But they’re still eight and ten. Nuances are hard. And so I drive six hours, sitting with my guilt.
And, of course, it smarts less when my daughter and her mom leave our house. I’m okay with being left behind; it’s what parents expect at some point. I just get it more frequently. It’s practice for the future when they’re all out living their own lives.
No. The real guilt comes in leaving her every time. Because every time I’m reminded of standing up out of that wheelchair in the hospital lobby, keeping my eyes fixated on the door—not my daughter—and walking out into the cold December air. Every time I leave her is like leaving her the first time. It conjures up all those emotions from that day: fear, anger, sadness, confusion, self-loathing, more anger, more fear, and the most desperate feeling of loneliness I’ve ever felt in my life. I knew that day, as the cold winds cut through my coat, which still didn’t button around my deflated belly, that I would never forgive myself.
I’m still working on it today.
My therapist still prompts me regularly about what that forgiveness might look like, but I still don’t know. Maybe it looks like being gentle with myself. Maybe it looks like letting go. Maybe it looks like something I don’t know yet. I don’t quite know how to get there, what it looks like, how it might feel. But maybe I will some day.
But for three days, once a month, I now know a peace I hadn’t known until this point. When my children are all within arms reach for that amount of time, I forget about forgiving myself, about the true need to do so. Instead I focus on the moment, the present, living the time we have together. I’ve gotten very lax at even taking pictures when we’re together because I get so caught up in the moment, in the living of each one.
I will note this: The post-visit crash we used to experience when visits were basically quarterly and even for our first few monthly visits has lessened, for both myself and the boys. I don’t get The Big Sad for as long. Sometimes I’m less sad by the end of the drive. Sometimes it takes a day. The boys, ever willing and able to ask questions and tell me what they’re thinking, cry less. The consistency has been good for all of us.
Next month, it’s their turn to visit us. We’ll take them to the pool. We’ll roast marshmallows around the fire pit. We’ll probably hide inside some to avoid the cicadas. The kids will play video games. The parents will talk about life. We’ll get too little sleep, all of us. We’ll spend quiet moments in each others’ presence, just sitting with the fact that we’re all here together. We’ll eat meals. And ice cream. And maybe we’ll all come a little closer to the next thing we need to do inside ourselves. We’re all working on our own things, separately and apart.
Next month, I’ll get to feel that peace again. I’ll breathe it deep into my soul. I’ll close my eyes and listen to the sounds of my children, together. I’ll store it away to pull out and inspect one day. I will breathe the calming breath of a mother who feels needed, who feels loved, who knows she has worked hard, given of herself, and done something worth doing. I’ve mothered three children who needed me to mother them in different ways at different times.
And I will continue to do so as long as I live.