Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Maple Tree

I love our maple trees…  There are two majestic ones that are just as you walk up the walk to our front porch and door.  The way they are placed makes them the perfect place for a statue of Our Lady and a votive garden.  They give me a sense of peace and hope whenever I see them.  They are one of the things that lured me into this house.  One of the things that made it real for us as “home”.  We’re tree people; some folks are “pet people”, but not us.  We are tree people.  We feel their unique spirits and find a kindred soul within.  Tree people…

Which is why it was devastating when the late July tornado and lightening storm damaged one of those majestic maples.  Its trunk was split in half with a jagged rip; the shade giving branches were yanked to the ground in a violent attack.  The  tree folks who came to review the tree told us that there was no change to save the tree…  Hack it down… Chip it up… Plant again or don’t and let grass grow…  But the tree has to come down.

Then one gentleman came and said, no…. he could save the tree…  The estimate would run us a little higher than the lowest chop-down one, but that was okay.  He could save the tree!  Pin it back together, trip the top, and, eventually the tree would grow again.  The tree would live!

To say that we were thrilled is putting it mildly.  A happiness came when we looked at the tree, broken for sure, but capable of being saved.   The tree crew came to fix the tree and the other shoe dropped.  The young man looked truly sad when he said “I don’t think this tree can be saved.  The damage looks too severe…”
I know my voice cracked when I asked if they would have to cut the tree down… If there was no other option.  He was trying to get in touch with his father- the original lumberjack who said the tree could be saved- but to no avail.  They decided to rope the tree to prevent a terrible accident if the tree gave way and fell, and to give us time to decide what to do.  As much as it hurt, we decided to let go of the tree… To let them cut it down.  And I cried.
It may sound crazy, a grown woman crying over a tree.  Most people would say that the tree is just a thing.  That it has no feelings, no spirit.  But I don’t believe that; I’ve never believed that.  I’ve felt that spirit.  I’ve seen the life and the love.  (And, for the record, yes, I cry when I read The Giving Tree, which is my favorite children’s book.)
Perhaps, in this tree, I can see a part of myself.
The last few weeks have seen lots of discussion in our home about where to go from here, reproductive wise.  It’s clear from my particular issue that future pregnancies, if conceivable, are a risk.  Of my seven pregnancies, four have ended in first trimester miscarriage and two have ended in severe preterm deliveries that resulted in the deaths of three children.  Even the “successful” pregnancy was a second trimester delivery and a long journey (on which, we’ve been incredibly lucky).  Our adoption attempts have all ended in failure.  We’ve been told to just be grateful for what we have… To cut our losses and to count our blessings…  To get beyond this and to move forward.  After all, many people aren’t lucky enough to have one child, let alone two health (and let’s not forget, biological, as I’ve been reminded on several occasions) children.  Walk away while we’re ahead, that sort of thing.  Although I don’t think I’ll ever look at our journey as “ahead”, I can see (if not understand or agree with) the points of views of others.
But I can say that a subsequent pregnancy isn’t safe.  It isn’t safe for the baby yet to be conceived.  It isn’t safe for Bobby and Maya.  And we never know the full safety of any pregnancy on the mother.  Even a cervical stitch isn’t a guarantee.  I was on the verge of delivery at 20 weeks with a cervical stitch with Bobby and Maya and, even though it held and got me those extra seven weeks, I spent 16 weeks on bedrest.  My body went through hell and even that wasn’t enough to get Bobby and Maya here full term (or close to it).  I feel grateful that I’ve been able to overcome that and honestly, I’d do it again in a heartbeat… if it were just Peter and I at home.  I’d go through the worry and the pain and the fear for a chance at what I have now, in this moment.
But I cant do it again.  Not now.  I cant imagine what 4 months of bedrest and 2 months in the hospital would do to Bobby and Maya.  I cant imagine the resentment they would have of a new child… The emotional abandonment they would feel.  The guilt and the anxiety we would feel.  The never knowing if we would lose the pregnancy and that growing child… How to explain it to Bobby and Maya on top of that…  And then, the inevitable bedrest and most likely hospital bedrest and probably NICU stay… I saw parents in the NICU who had to choose between kids and home and kids in the hospital… Moms on bedrest who wept for the kids they were missing- and who were missing them- at home.  Kids who were used to a full time mom and were now being cared for by everyone but.  Kids who cried themselves to sleep at night, who asked when Mama was coming home.  Having another baby- for me (and I’m not judging anyone else here)- would be one of the most selfish things I’d ever attempt, even more so because I know the risks involved.
The tree reminds me of myself.  A beautiful trunk that, underneath it all, was actually hollow and just waiting for lightening to strike and wind storm to press enough to cause a severe enough break that things came tumbling down…  Even the “cerclage”- the robe the lumberjacks tied around the top- gives me a bitter laugh.
When it happened, it came on the cusp of a conversation that Peter and I have been struggling to have: the discussion of a tubal ligation.  To do it or not to do it.  The Catholic Church is staunchly against it, although it is possible to request a dispensation for medical purposes and, if we decide to pursue that route, we would attempt the dispensation first.  To not do it… To risk getting pregnant again since I have cycling (albeit not routinely enough to do NFP) …  To try to TVC and to end up on bedrest (most likely), in the hospital (more likely), and the NICU (probable)…  Or to try to sell Dr. B. and our insurance on performing a transabdominal cerclage even though we have no plans to actively attempt another pregnancy  (I’d love to hear those discussions).  At the end of the day, I know in my heart that making the decision to have a tubal ligation- with or without the Church’s blessing- would be the most gut-wrenching decision I’d have to make.  It will be something that I mourn and regret forever, even though not doing so would also be something I may regret as well, especially if I put another child’s life in danger.
Is it strange that I swore I heard the Great Spirit in the discussions over the tree?  That, when it split and I saw- so clearly- myself in that tree, I was deeply troubled by being told to cut it down because I felt like the decision was suddenly clear: tubal.  Call Dr. B.  And then, the one person who said “I can save the tree…”  Like the voice of the Divine saying “WAIT!  There’s another chance!”  And the let-down… “I’m sorry… The tree is too far split to be saved…”
So what to make then of the phone call I received last night, from the original lumberjack, who still stands by his decision that the tree can be saved… Who said that he’d come out personally and see to the bolting of the tree back together… Who assures me that the tree will grow back its canopy and be stronger than it was before… Who is unconcerned with the hollow decay of the remaining trunk and believes the bolts will hold until the tree is strong enough once again to hold itself…  If he’s wrong, he’s agreed to remove the tree and to honor the (much lower) quote we’d received from a competitor.
Before the phone call, it was an easy choice: the tree has to come down.  We tried.  Apologize to the tree… Weep for the loss… But, ultimately, say goodbye and let it go.  And now…  The choice is again clear: save the tree.  If there’s a way, save the tree.

But my reproductive system… There’s another story hidden there beneath that “beautiful cervix that can’t”.  Would it be easier if we weren’t the PreCana instructors who specifically teach on the “Catholic Family” and reproduction?  If we didn’t sit on the Respect Life Committee?  Honestly, it might appear a little less comical, but I don’t think the decision itself would be any easier.  Would it be easier if we didn’t know all the risks associated, maternally, with continued preterm deliveries and miscarriages?  If we didn’t know the effects of prolonged bedrest?  If we knew, for sure, that Bobby and Maya are as healthy as they appear and that our time would be safely split with additional children?  If we knew, for sure, that my pregnancy would be textbook and fine?  Even then, I don’t know that things would be easier.  I’d like to think they would be, but I don’t know that for sure.
I feel trapped.  Trapped between my desire for a huge family and my guilt for wanting that knowing the repercussions.  Knowing that we are able to comfortably provide for the children we have and that adding more to that might very well stretch us outside of the way we are trying to raise them.  Trapped by my own sense of morals and responsibilities to Bobby and Maya, to Peter, to the memories of Nicholas, Sophia, Alexander, and our miscarried babies….  Feeling like I just don’t know the right decision or even if there is a right decision.
It turns out that my majestic maple will be coming down…  We had another look at it today and the damage is not repairable.  Though some may find this odd, it truly does break my heart to have to say good-bye to this beautiful work of art… This living, breathing creature that I am making the decision to end its life.  The rot is to the core of the tree and on the way to the base. The split is horrifically deep.  The canopy is deepening the tear as its weight brings the tree closer and closer to earth.  It’s over…  And that imparts such a sadness.
And what does that then make of me?  Am I, like that maple, hanging on by a thread that cannot be repaired?  That should be removed?  If only these questions were so easily answered.  If only those answers would mend my sorrow.


Hillary said...

We're tree people too! It was also one of the reasons we bought the house that we did :).

I understand completely how hard the decision must be right now for you to continue to work on your family. I'm so thankful that this is my last baby and that should everything work out he will complete us. To be honest, its been hell trying to get him here. It has effected everyone in our family (from our kids to our parent). I'm fairly certain that God forbid something happen again this time to us and this baby we probably wouldn't have another one. I'm not sure how I would make it the rest of my life with the knowledge of only having the 2 kids that I do (I realized that sounds selfish and stupid when there are soo many who have none). I can understand why you are on the fence right now.

Prayer for you and your family (and tree) for guidence and peace!

ashleyjnc said...

I don't know if you read Adrienne's blog Our Journey to Love.. but she was similar to your situation and now has FOUR (yes four!) babies at home. Do not lose heart. I think it would be unfair to you to make the decision to severe all future options for child-bearing...I think adoption is beautiful and wonderful and may eventually work out.. but I know the pain is so hard to open yourself up to. It will be my only option for a child..Your children are stronger than you think.. and I do not think they would hold it against you later on when they are loving and playing with their sibling(s).

Baby Smiling In Back Seat said...

I'm sorry for your tree, and for the difficult decisions you face.

ccc said...

Although I do not have to face your issues and your decisions with having the family that you wish, I can understand a bit of the indecisiveness of what to do about having the large Catholic family. We already have that large Catholic family by most people's standards, and yet I can still get pregnant quite easily although I keep losing them. Do I continue? Is this ridiculous? Should I go to extreme measures to try not to lose the baby by trying every herb, vitamin, medicine that I think may help?(since we do not know what is causing the multiple m/c's)I am older(almost 44) Is this too old and should I just give it up? But, what about my Faith and what about Our Lord? The m/c's are not taking a toll on the family(just me) and we can afford more children, so I feel indecisive like you must. I pray for peace for both of us and our decisions.

Jenn said...

What a beautiful post. I struggle too, with not wanting to get pregnant again, because I know how it ends, but not being able to make a 'permanent' decision to stop that possibility. I'm so sorry for the tree, I cried when the big Weeping Willow in my parents front yard had to come down too...

Amy said...

I do not think my post made it (crazy server of mine), so i will try again!

Just seconds ago, I was wishing for a new post form you - and viola! It may not be a "woohoo" post, but a post nonetheless. Even your bad news has cheered me a bit. :-)

I know how you feel about the tree. It is so hard to see something so beautiful torn down, especially when it took so long to grow. And you will now have the empty space to be a constant reminder - so sad it is!

I share your pain with wanting more children, but not being able to have them. I, too, have wanted a large family, but between infertility and struggles with losses, I am beginning to think this is not my future. This "high risk" pregnancy has given me pause to reflect, and we do not think it would be prudent to get pregnant again. God may have other plans, but that is up to Him. We have always considered adoption, but this is VERY difficult in the state in which we live.

A few weeks ago, another mother shared something that I found quite profound. I wish I could remember exactly how she said it, but it went something like this:

There comes a time when you stop dreaming of more blessings and begin the work of raising those you have.

I think that time has come for me. For those of us who want a large family but are not blessed with such, this is our cross to bear. In our society it is indeed a "strange" cross, but it is our cross and we must carry it. Embracing God's will is so very different for everyone.

I also wanted to share some great news with you. As of Monday, I will be in my third trimester!!! While I most certainly know better than to think we are in the clear, I find myself beginning to smile and looking forward to this birth. God willing, in but a few short weeks I will have a beautiful baby girl in my arms, breathing and crying. And how blessed those cries will be to hear!

Take care, Michelle. And perhaps we can take special refuge within the heart of our Blessed Mother. She, after all, was only blessed with one child. ;-)

St Elsewhere said...

I don't know if I have words that are expressive enough.

Is it pure coincidence, that today I read another post of a lady writing of knowing when to stop.

I am sorry you are having to let go of that maple tree. You know what? Trees are pets too. I have a pet plant.(It has a name and I talk to it sometimes).

The decision to try or not try for any more biological children is huge. Respecting Life means that you won't interfere with one which is already developing. With your history you can make a very strong case in front of the Church. And you are not destroying life. Who would want to cook a feast in a vessel that can't hold? To let go of the vessel isn't letting go of the feast.

I don't want to give you the 'you can continue to try and adopt' because I don't know what you guys really would do or would like to decide.

Like I said, I am completely lacking the right words. But just know that I am with you in whatever you choose to do. It won't be a wrong decision.

St Elsewhere said...

Sometimes, I feel guilty that my heart is not open to adoption and that even with all this infertility I have been offered the chance of biological offspring. I think it would be a very potent subject to ponder on really.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful metaphor, and a truly heart rending choice, on both fronts.
I'm getting an IUD because I have to go on methotrexate to control my rhumatoid arthritis--and I am sad at not having any more maybe-babies. And we had to use ALL donor gametes!
I hope you can have a family that feels complete to you--that one of those adoptions sticks, rather than more miscarriage/adoptions.

MrsSpock said...

Such a difficult decision when your body does not work the way it should!

I, too, wrestle with the idea that another pregnancy, though it can be conceived most likely, would be risky for both me and the baby, due to my autoimmune issues. I would gladly have had a large family too.

I just gave away all of my maternity clothes- though I can't myself make the final decision by tying my tubes.

The Church does make exceptions. Two friends (I grew up Catholic, and most of my friends did too) have had serious medical issues brought on by pregnancy- kidney failure that will require my friend to need a new kidney , and heart failure that landed another friend in the ICU. Both got permission to have their tubes tied, as a subsequent pregnancy would likely result in the death of both mother and child.

What does your priest say?

Terri Jones said...

Beautiful post. I know how hard this is on you. You will find your path and peace. Sending love & hugs.

quadmom said...

Oh Michele, what a difficult and heartbreaking situation to be in ... I can hear the anguish in this post as you struggle with the weight of whatever decision you choose. I will be praying for you for strength and clarity. xx

Barb said...

I do not envy you these torn feelings.

I have felt very much the same about trees. Sending love.

Oh.. and the babies are SO BIG! (and cute)