Home For Mom

Photo: Rob Bye
Photo: Rob Bye


While I lived in Ontario for a year, I came back home every month. It was not for a boy, but rather for my mom. She has terminal lung cancer. She won’t do chemotherapy. At the point where she was, there was no use- it could have killed her rather than saved her. Yes, her slow demise is really painful, and it’s been on my mind every day for more than a year.

I learned that my mom was sick in February 2014. Even before that, I had a feeling that the news would probably be gloomy because my mom warned me that she was going through a series of tests.

I was also worried because in December 2013, we went for a four-day trip in Quebec City and I realized that she was more tired than usual. She was dragging. She needed more coffee breaks.

I was fearing the worst while hoping that it would not be lung cancer. I’ve had the intuition that she was going to die from lung cancer for years. It was not a death wish but rather a strong intuition. I also have an amazing yet disturbing intuition, and it’s mostly right- precisely what makes it disturbing.

My mother smoked cigarettes for years. When we lived together, she would go outside, mostly, or smoke under the hood to mask odours. Sometimes, when I would come back from my dad’s place, she would have had opened all the doors and windows to ventilate the apartment. She would also often try to hide this because she knew that smoking in the apartment, and in general, was not a good idea. Still, she kept doing it, despite my many pleas. I even made no smoking signs in a heart-shape, imitating a Health Canada campaign from the 1990s.

When my mother told me about her illness, I was devastated. I kept it inside and went to my father’s place to pick something up. It was towards the end of the afternoon that I started crying and I couldn’t stop. At the same moment, my father and his girlfriend came back. They were shocked, but not as much as I was. They dropped me off to yoga class. I went because I thought that it would change my mind. I spent half the class crying, to finally breathe. 

A couple of days after this, I got a call: I was accepted in the master of journalism at the University of Western Ontario.

I felt guilty. I didn’t want to leave my mother in Montreal, yet I knew I had to go. One of my dreams was coming true. It was my second and last attempt to get into one of the few master of journalism programs in the country.  Again, my intuition was kicking in, this time telling me that I had no choice but to go.

Discussing it with my dad, he understood my dilemma. ‘‘There are times in life where you don’t know what is waiting for you, but you know that you have to go,’’ he said.

My mom wanted me to go, telling me that I had to. She didn’t want me to feel guilty. That being said, I also always felt that I had to be back as often as possible to Montreal to visit, and I wanted to. 

In February 2014, the doctors gave my mother six months to a year. I did feel guilty at times for choosing my future over my mom, yet I didn’t choose. I managed to give as much as I could to both. It was not easy because it required tremendous energy. I often felt discouraged, anxious, angry or sad, but I did it.

In the months prior to graduating, I applied to a bunch of jobs all around the country, not knowing what was coming up. I would have loved to move to a new city, probably Toronto, get a high-paying job, find a new apartment and buy new clothes. I would have loved to start anew. I would have loved to become a real adult, to enter middle class, to reap the fruits of my labour. 

Despite my lofty goals, it’s not what life has in the cards for me right now.

On Easter, I had breakfast with my mom and she told me the result of her last scan: she has six months left to live. While she has exceeded her original life expectancy, I know that she won’t this time. It’s more or less six months.

Over coffee, my mother told me that it was fundamental that I’m there for the end of her life. I knew it, but it confirmed it. Time is finite and life happens and then it’s done or as Nas would say, ”life’s a bitch and then you die.” Time with loved ones is precious and it’s probably the most important thing in the world. It’s something that can easily be forgotten in this individualistic and workaholic society.

I’m my mother’s only child and closest family member. While the responsibility can be a burden, it’s also an opportunity to prioritize what is really important. In a nutshell, life and death. In a word, love.

My mother is not the easiest person to take care of. She suffers from borderline personality disorder, which means that emotions are heightened and days unpredictable. Add to that the physical suffering that is worsening as days go by.

As she outlived her life expectancy, she stayed seemingly healthy for months, although inside she was losing every day. She doesn’t seem as healthy anymore. She coughs constantly, and it is harder for her to go to public spaces or to walk outside.

On Mother’s Day, we were walking on Blvd St.Laurent and she was coughing so much that a 20-something guy gave me a concerned glance. I will have to get used to those glances now.

As much as I love my mom, I hate life for giving me such a hard time. My favourite aunt (her sister) already died from cancer in 2005. Why is it happening all over again?

I want my family to be healthy and I want to get on with my life. But then, I’m conscious life is not only about me and the most important thing right now is to take care of my mom.

I find the situation increasingly difficult as her health is disintegrating. I have a guy friend who went through a similar situation with his mother and he told me that despite it being the hardest thing, it is very important to be there constantly, especially in the last moments.

It is fucking painful. I want my mom to revert back to a healthier state. Instead, I’m seeing her lose strength as the days go by. She is scared, she is sad, she is constantly living the full spectrum of human emotions.

I’m trying to ease her pain and help her out as much as I can. I help her clean, I bring her food, I listen to her talk, I record her voice so I can keep memory files.

It’s difficult to know that for me, my mother will disappear soon.

I will never see her become an old lady with a full head of grey hair. She will never meet my future children. That is one of the hardest realizations to have.

Also, the worst is that everyone wants to believe that things are looking up, that she will heal. She will not. She will lose all of her energy. She will die. So many people ask me dumb questions about her state, about whether or not she is doing chemotherapy. People hope for the best. I understand. But the best doesn’t always happen. 

My mother’s illness has made me realize everything that she has given to me, everything that she passed down to me in my lifetime. I wouldn’t be as smart, critical, funny, sensitive and artsy if I had another mom. Despite her difficult childhood, she gave me everything that she did not have. She worked hard at being a mom. She worked hard at being an artist. She gave me everything. The list is infinite.

I will never forget that. I will never forget her. And when I eventually have children, I will make sure to tell them who their grandmother was.

 

Advertisements

Baby Blues – Dealing with Gender Disappointment

Dealing with gender disappointmentToday I am 32 weeks and 2 days pregnant. Less than eight weeks away from giving birth to a live human being! Needless to say I am pretty nervous and I admit I don’t feel totally prepared. I am sure all new moms feel the same, but part of me feels a little guilty that over the past few months I have not been as excited about my little bundle of joy as I should be. Since my 19 week ultrasound, I believe I have been suffering from what is called “gender disappointment”: a common yet under discussed issue that some women go through when finding out they won’t be having the baby they had always imagined.

I’ll start from the beginning: The day I found out I was pregnant. It was a hot day in June, so humid that there were torrential downpours outside making it dangerous to drive. But I was desperate to get my home pregnancy test, so I drove over to my local Walmart and sat in my car for 15 minutes until the rain subsided a bit for me to go inside.

When I got home, I peed on the stick, and with a shaky hand left it face down on the bathroom counter and shut the door. Ten minutes later, I begged my husband, Eric, to go and check the results. The test was easy enough to understand: it would either say “Yes” or “No.” I let him go inside the bathroom first and with a shocked look on his face said, “It’s a yes!”

I guess Eric and I were both taken by surprise, but secretly I was super excited, more excited than Eric was. We had been debating for a while on the right time to start a family and with my persistence and persuasion, I convinced him there was no time like the present. I had read several articles about conception and how it sometimes takes a while for couples to actually get pregnant, so I wanted to get a head start, assuming we would be pregnant by Christmas time. They say one in five couples will be successful on the first try, so I guess we beat the odds there or I attribute it to beginner’s luck! Although I was shocked and nervous, I felt it was meant to be and everything was how it should be.

The months preceding the pregnancy, I did a lot of research on conception. Not just on how to conceive successfully, but how to conceive the gender of your choice. From reading about the different sex positions, to the timing of intercourse, and even studying the Chinese gender calendar, I became obsessed with gender conception research, to carefully plan the perfect family I had always imagined. For me, that always meant having a little girl to call my own. She would be my best friend, my confidant, my little princess.

Throughout the summer, I was constantly nauseous and craving pastries and sweets. Even though I felt like crap, I was happy knowing that these two symptoms indicated a little girl was likely in my belly (according to the old wives tales I kept reading about). People would ask me if I had a preference for gender and I would sheepishly reply with the cliché phrase “As long as it’s healthy.”. I couldn’t let people know that I was really hoping for a baby girl, even though I was almost positive it was anyway.

As summer was coming to an end, I became impatient with waiting for my mid-pregnancy ultrasound a.k.a. the gender reveal ultrasound. The mid-pregnancy ultrasound is really to check up on how well the baby is developing and to identify if there are any causes for concern. Of course I was thrilled to learn that the baby was developing normally without any health concerns, but I was most curious about the gender. I was almost positive that we were having a girl, so much so that we already had her name picked out and nursery theme decided. My assumptions were based on multiple factors including the amount of females in both mine and Eric’s families. I have one sister, zero brothers, seven female cousins and one male cousin and Eric has two sisters and no brothers. I was also very confident in my conception planning. I had done everything the websites had said regarding the right positions and timing of intercourse. So on that sunny day in September when the sonographer asked me if I wanted to know the gender, I quickly answered yes with a smile on my face. I couldn’t wait for her to confirm that inside was our sweet baby girl!

So you can just imagine the look on my face when she brought Eric into the room and showed us all the baby’s body parts including its head, its legs, its arms, its stomach and its penis?! “In my opinion, it’s a boy,” the sonographer said in a very serious tone as she pointed to a turtle like image on the screen. I was in so much shock I couldn’t say a word. My mouth was dry and all I wanted to do was go home. In my head I wondered why she said, “In my opinion.” I was hopeful that maybe there was a good chance she was wrong, maybe she was looking at an umbilical cord or a swollen labia? The baby in my belly most certainly could not be a boy.

After we left the hospital, Eric seemed very happy. He was so convinced we were having a girl after all my analysis the months prior about all my confirmed “girl-like” symptoms and old wives tales theories. He seemed to be a bit relieved and more excited than I had seen him before. It was me who was secretly upset, but I couldn’t tell a soul. It sounds so silly and ridiculous, but at that moment, I felt like my baby had died. The baby that I had been dreaming of anyway. There would be no ballet lessons, no hair braiding, no mother-daughter spa days and no Barbie doll collecting. Instead, my life would be filled with cars and trucks, dirt and mud and superheroes and comic books; a world that I was very unfamiliar with. Since I am such a girly-girl type, I feared that I would not be able to connect and have a strong bond with my son.

The weeks following the ultrasound, I noticed a drop in my excitement about the pregnancy. I stopped writing in my pregnancy journal, I stopped taking my weekly belly photos, and I stopped writing in my pregnancy blog. I just felt numb. I was also convinced that the sonographer was wrong in her gender diagnosis. I was determined to go back for a paid 3D ultrasound a bit further along into my pregnancy to confirm the results. “It can’t be true,” I kept thinking to myself.

A boy! What would I do with a boy? I felt terrible. There are many people in the world who are not even capable of having children, or have babies with chronic health problems and here I was with a beautiful, healthy baby boy growing inside of me and I could not be grateful. There was no telling anyone my true feelings of disappointment for fear of looking like a terrible mother who didn’t deserve to have a child.

I went on my days with a smile on my face acting as if a baby boy was what I had wanted the whole time. It was hard to keep a smile on my face, especially when I had many rude and unsolicited comments from people such as “Oh no, a boy? You’re screwed!” or “Aren’t you sad that you aren’t having a girl?” I couldn’t believe some things people had to say, but it made me angry. After all, it’s not like you get to choose, so why would people say such mean things? They made me realize that, maybe a lot of us are living in a superficial world of gender stereotyping. Who says that having a girl will automatically mean they will like the colour pink or princesses? And why can’t boys enjoy tea parties with their mom or dance classes too? If anything, these negative comments gave me ammunition to fight these stereotypes. I was happy to be having a child at all, and I was determined to prove to myself that having a little boy would be just as much fun as having a daughter.

To help deal with my emotions, I researched this phenomena of gender disappointment and was relieved to find that it is more of a common issue than people realize. It just isn’t really talked about because what woman (or man for that matter) would ever want to admit to such shameful feelings? I found comfort in knowing that I was not alone in my messed up feelings of sadness. It was reassuring to read about other women who initially felt the same way as me, but got over it as soon as their sons were born.

I am still a little sad that I am not having a girl, but I have learned to accept what God has given me and I am looking at the positives. Having a boy will also be fun. It will be different than what I had planned or imagined, but I am looking forward to raising a little man. I try not to focus on my stereotypical gender thoughts and think of my baby as just a gender neutral human being. He will be my world. And even though I am entering unfamiliar territory with a boy, I know I will learn how to engage with my son in a special way that I never thought possible.

As I am getting closer to my due date, I am getting more excited to meet my little man. From picking nursery décor and deciding on names, it makes everything seem very real. I’ve learned that you can’t always control things in life, no matter how hard you try, but you can control your behaviour and your attitude and just embrace what God gives you. I know that the day my baby arrives, all my worries and fears will be pushed aside and I will immediately fall in love. My life will change, maybe not in the way I had originally imagined, but in a wonderful, beautiful way nonetheless.

Misfortune Cookie?

Interesting

I cracked it open with the expected curiosity one has when handed a fortune cookie. On New Year’s Day with the annual need to reinvent myself I guess I was hoping for something really inspiring to emerge from the sweet interior of that cookie and there it was. “You will always live in interesting times.” Was that a fortune or a curse? The week leading up to the cookie I was without power for five days. I lost one of the most important presences in my life, and did I mention I was made victim of a New Year’s Eve flasher. That’s right, while waiting for a designated driver to pick my friends and I up; a man approached our parked vehicle junk in hand and just stood there exposed in negative 30 degree cold. I don’t know if I was more frightened or concerned. Frost bite can happen.

I will always live in interesting times? Do I have to? Can’t I please get a resting period of normal? Normal isn’t really something I have ever experienced. To me, “normal” would be super ‘interesting.” By that I mean another person’s level of normal. My normal is abnormal.

The strange thing is I don’t know how “Interesting” happened to my life. I remember I started out normal. I remember being as young as five wanting a baby doll because when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was “A Mom.” I thought it was the best job. Taking care of a family and making sure they’re happy. I loved that. The response I got from grown-ups were along the lines of “I mean for a job.” I really thought that was an occupation. When I found out it wasn’t, I spent years deciding what I wanted to be when I grow up. In fact I am still figuring it out.

I mean things that were considered normal have all evolved past that. I really wish that wasn’t the case. Sure women are now given freedom to vote and work, but any woman who just wanted to have a family is now considered crazy, clingy and the admission of such wants mean those wants will not come to fruition and that woman in question will spend many years accumulating large number of pets to nurture, like rabbits or gerbils so she can be around come sort of babies. This result is also not normal.

I want to know why submitting to our base desires and purpose is considered shameful. We live in a world where a woman can twerk on a douchey beetlejuice impersonator and that is considered hot and the sentence dream girl can be applied to such a person, but for a woman to say I want stability, I want a real job. I someday want marriage and babies is the new taboo?

Now after reading that I assume you’re imaging matronly women psychotically planning their wedding pinterest board, but that is not the case. To have a solid idea of what they want in a certain timeline is an admirable and brave quality. I want to stop waking up and wondering where the shirt I am wearing came from. I want to not have 3 am text messages from guys named Steve asking if I have ever heard of a Cincinnati Bowtie! I want to be a good girl with a plan. I want to be proud of knowing what I want. I want people to not be afraid to say that they have had enough adventure. I’m not saying that I want to settle down right this second but I would really like to see it in the distance and know that one day this wild ride will take me down the freeway of carefree happiness with a super amazing car filled with love.

I’m not afraid to say this. It’s what I want. If you don’t like it, get out of the car. Who knew a fortune cookie could bring on such an epiphany?

Andrea Holz is a Toronto-based award winning writer, actress, comedian and coffee master.