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.