Loving Benjamin

By 
Gail Marlene Schwartz

Part Five: Beginning

His eyes are dark and warm, like hot chocolate, and his movements are punctuated and full of life, like a baby Charlie Chaplin. His new lips feel strangely capable on my nipple.

His gaze meets mine and I whisper “well hello, Benjamin,” my voice grainy from the surgery.

I nurse him hello and I nurse him goodbye. I haven’t seen him since.

Part One: Another Beginning

“Congratulations!”

I listen to the message three times to make sure it’s real. Finally, I drop the phone and bolt out the door, barefooted, running to find Lucie who is walking the dog, shouting, “We’re pregnant! We’re pregnant!!!”

Part Two: Waiting and Weighing

Our first ultrasound happens at eight weeks. The tech rubs jelly on my belly and a tiny pulsing heart appears on the screen.

And then, another.

Two bodies. Two heartbeats.

At home that evening, we celebrate with flowers, two yellow mums for them, a white for Lucie and a purple for me. We light candles, hold hands and weep with joy.

I step on the scale. 161. No gain yet.

Our doctor gives me screening tests at week twelve. Afterwards she sits us down; she’s concerned about the Nuchal Translucency test, which indicates that Baby B has a one in three chance of having Down’s Syndrome. She strongly recommends an early amniocentesis, which would be definitive; “I could do it tomorrow,” she says. 95% of women who get this news choose abortion, she tells us, and if it’s necessary, sooner is better for the healthy twin.

I am numb and cannot speak.

We finally take an appointment for the amniocentesis in a few days to give ourselves time to think. I cry silently in the car going home, wiping my cheeks and nose with the gray fleece of my jacket.

During the next few days, I think about my fantasy children. One girl and one boy. Talented and smart. Musician and cartoonist. Successful. People who other people cherish. People who care for the world and make me proud.

Of course, neither of these children has Down’s Syndrome.

Retarded. Slow. Special needs. Mentally handicapped.

Somebody who 95% of people choose to abort.

No, this news does not fit into my plans at all.

Suddenly I am deeply ashamed. I want to tuck myself into the corner, under the loose floorboard in our bedroom, where nobody can see me.

Lucie and I talk for hours. We already feel like parents and realize that abortion is not an option for us. Our research tells us that Down’s babies are easily adoptable by families who feel called to raise special needs kids.

I step on the scale. Again and again and again.

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168

My brain does somersaults around the one in three odds. 66% of the people who get this news have normal kids, I reason. Medical doctors are such alarmists. Two out of three, two out of three, two out of three.

I see a new mom pushing her twins in a double stroller down the street. I turn around and cover four extra blocks to avoid her.

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We do it up for Halloween. We spend hours on our costumes, Lucie a witch and me, the Headless Horseman. We make an orange themed dinner for friends, sweet potato fries, pumpkin soup and cheese puffs. We light candles and carve intricate designs into pumpkins with the help of Martha Stewart.

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I feel my capacity for closeness shut down, like a trap door, and I sink deeper and deeper into the darkness. I stop returning phone calls and start going back to bed after breakfast. Sometimes I stay there until lunch.

I think of my own mother, just 22 at my birth. An unplanned pregnancy, I wasn’t the child she had imagined either-a beautiful, feminine girl who would play quietly with dolls, do as she’s told and take good care of Mommy.

Daily life with her was terrifying.

What if she had given me up?

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Part three: Moving Through the Middle

The doctor calls two weeks later with the results of the amnio. Baby B has Down’s Syndrome.

The waiting is over.

I spend the day with Lucie. We cry and hold each other as we wander around the house. I look for something to fill myself with: flax toast with peanut butter, semisweet chocolate morsels, Lucky Charms Cereal with rice milk, a Granny Smith apple and some cheddar.

The gaping hole remains in the depths of my pregnant belly.

In the evening, I make the mistake of calling my mother. She listens silently for a moment before speaking. “You’re not going to KEEP it, are you?” I hang up quietly and lie down on the couch and stay there, staring at the window, until morning.

We talk at breakfast before Lucie leaves for work. We know deep in our hearts that we cannot provide for Baby B. Our advancing ages and my career are reason enough; I don’t even have to face my initial shame.

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I float out, further and further from my tribe. I am too broken to manage others’ reactions, judgments, even their clumsy kind offers of “can I do anything to help?”

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I spend more and more time in bed.

Part Four: (re)Birth

Quietness. Emptiness. Agony.

My belly pushes out, more and more, and I sleep in short spurts. My maternity pants keep falling down and I can’t walk to the corner without feeling breathless.

We find out they are two boys and decide to name them: Baby A is Alexi, our son. Baby B is Benjamin. We use their hospital initials to honor their time as twins, kicking, elbowing and hiccupping inside me.

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Between week 32 and 33, the adoption proceedings begin: we shed tears of relief to find out there is a family waiting for little Benjamin.

Repeated questions about us being sure of our decision are difficult.

We are sure ... and we are sad.

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Occasionally I am still overtaken by fear. “What’s wrong with the other one?” “What if something happens at the birth?” “What if I am a terrible mother?”

I feel kicks and see elbows and heels glide across my middle so I focus there. The fear retreats into the shadow of the miracle and starts loosening its grip on my soul.

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Part Five: Beginning, Again

At 36 weeks, my doctor tells me I am having light contractions and that Benjamin’s heart rate is dropping dangerously low with each one. She suggests going ahead with an induction, knowing how important a vaginal birth is to me. “We can always wheel you across the hall to the OR for a C-section if there’s any problem.“ I look at her, puzzled. “But couldn’t Benjamin die quickly with stronger contractions?” She just looks at me, and finally shrugs. I realize then that my doctor is thinking only of Alexi. She is willing to sacrifice Benjamin, seeing him like most of the outside world will see him. My mind runs through all of reasons C-sections are bad for babies; this is not how I want my son to enter the world. But at that moment, I am Benjamin’s mother too, his birth mother, and my job at that moment is clear. I make the decision and the nurses began prepping me for surgery.

I tell our doula, Leslie, and the hospital staff that I do not want to see Benjamin at all after the birth; I need to focus on Alexi and not get bogged down in grief.

Frightened and shivering, they wheel me into the OR in my gown. I am given several medications in my spine and slowly sensations in my bottom half fade away. Lucie comes in after about 15 minutes and holds my hand. At some points I am losing so much blood that I am certain I’ll vomit. Finally they pull Alexi out and I hear him wail. The nurse puts him on my chest for a few moments before whisking him away to be cleaned. They take Benjamin out next and quickly bring him elsewhere.

When we arrive in the recovery room, both babies are there: it seems the doctors had forgotten my request. A nurse takes Alexi away for some extra oxygen and Benjamin remains in his little plastic bassinet, quietly smacking his tiny lips together. Leslie comments casually that he wants to nurse. I throw caution to the wind, take him in my arms and give it my best effort: my first moment of breastfeeding. He latches on and nurses like a pro, all the while maintaining eye contact.

His eyes are dark and warm, like hot chocolate, and his movements are punctuated and full of life, like a baby Charlie Chaplin. His new lips feel strangely capable on my nipple.

His gaze meets mine and I whisper “well hello, Benjamin,” my voice grainy from the surgery.

I nurse him hello and I nurse him goodbye. I haven’t seen him since.

Gail Marlene Schwartz is a writer and performer living in Montreal. Her work has appeared in Parents Canada, Ms. Guided, Community Arts Network, Gay Parent Magazine and most recently in Brindle and Glass’ anthology, Hidden Lives. Gail holds an MFA in interdisciplinary arts from Goddard College. Visit her blog at www.twodykesandaboyby.blogspot.ca. "Loving Benjamin" was the honourable mention in our 2012 creative non-fiction contest.

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