I’ve been stewing a post in my head about nose picking and educating our children. But I’ll need to come back to it, because all I keep doing is checking WhyMommy’s posts on breast cancer. I am nursing as I type, enjoying it before Otto gets too distracted by the click of the keys. And there is a mother in DC weaning her son. She has a serious cancer (I guess that means we’re making progress if “serious cancer” isn’t actually redundant anymore) and cancer treatments aren’t good for breast milk. Her baby is three days older than mine. And she is strong now.
Asking Demanding that her readers’ comments be positive. Typing her truth. Not changing her name, her tune to WhyMe.
Another mother in DC just beat colon cancer. She shared her journey through mass emails. The same emails that a two years ago were updates on her daughter’s running and music achievements. Quick notes about a new job, a move, other people’s health. I was with this woman nine years ago, steadying her as she signed the papers for the Chinese adoption, as she pulled the first picture of her daughter from the cardboard envelope. We were coworkers, and I was a new midwife. She was too moved, to already in love, to drive to the post office alone. She calls me her midwife. For years after she moved East, I didn’t read all of her emails in detail. Other than the updates, we lost touch. But then one day she found out she had cancer, and all I could think about was that lunchtime trip. Her dreams coming true.
We imagine our lives. We see the splendor of it rolled out ahead. Parties. Graduation. Celebration. We piece together “normal” in relation to others. How much sleep do you get? How often do you fight with your husband? We read the paper and swallow hard at kidnappings, kids caught in gunfire, fathers killed in a convenience store. But life as a parent is mostly just day to day. What’s for dinner? Is the dishwasher empty? No, you can’t stand on that chair. I can’t figure out how one becomes the person in the news with the sad, sad story. No. I know how these things happen. What I can’t wrap my head around is how you live with them. How you live.
The year my mother had breast cancer and my uncle had brain cancer is the year we lost our first son. It’s not so clear to me now how we lived. I remember crying on the couch an awful lot. I remember my milk darkening circles on my shirt. I remember believing I had the worst luck on the planet. But then the days moved one by one along the squares in the kitchen calendar. My mom came and went from the community chemo room. She mailed pictures of her bald head. We threw ashes into the Pacific. Hours became weeks became years. And now we are parents of two. My mother and uncle survived. And I sit here now thinking how lucky we are to have more than just a “normal” life: health, and wealth, and love. How lucky I am to feed my son and dream of his first day of school… that quintessential vision of the backpack, the glance backover his shoulder. How easily it all can change.
What does WhyMommy think of now in those moments when she's not strong? What is normal in her house? I swallow hard now and hold a future for her in my swelling heart.