Gratitude: Day 9

I forgot to document what I am grateful for on this ninth day of the month of Thanksgiving on my Six Word Friday post. When I realized this, I thought about doing an addendum and updating it, but then I realized I wanted to do an entire post on today’s subject, gratitude for my son. Today, at around 12:30 EST, Marco officially enters his 26th year of life.

This is a miracle and a testament of the power of love, faith, and the human spirit to adapt and overcome.

He first came into existence somewhere along the I-5 corridor in the Pacific NW. I was a 16 year old runaway on the run with a man I had let convince me that he loved me and wanted to take me away from the stifling and uncaring custody of my uncle who was too caught up in his own personal and relationship drama to do what needed to be done to take care of me. Hmmm, That sounds too familiar.

We ran away in November. Conception probably happened in February, since that was when a ride we’d hitched got pulled over and the only one to go to jail was my love. Parole violation, what? Somehow I got some help to get back “home” using my alias. I spent a few weeks reconnecting with people who had been kind and supportive of the two of us and began setting up a life for myself while I waited for him to get out and return.

I was 16 and passing myself as 21. I got a job and a place to live as a live-in child care provider and light housekeeper, neither a job I was qualified for or could do well, but had convinced my employers and myself I could do with ease.

Then came the nausea. One night I just felt so sick all I could do was lie on the cold bathroom tile, wishing I could throw up, knowing it wasn’t going to happen and knowing there was only one reason for feeling that way. Sure enough, within a few days I had medical confirmation that I was pregnant.

I was shocked and surprised. A couple of years before, I had gone through a horrifically painful experience where I’d had an infection in my Fallopian tubes so severe the doctor basically said it would be a miracle if I ever got pregnant. The only explanation for that would be it had happened during the abuse by my stepfather from when I was 8-10 years old.

So, right from conception, Marco’s existence has been a miracle.

Even though I was 16, pretending to be 21 and for all intents and purposes was alone in the world, I was determined to do better for my child than had been done for me. Starting with trying to ensure he had his family, especially his father. I had never known mine. I did not want to be married three times by the time my child was six, as my mother had done. So, I stayed committed to the 30 year old man I had known less than a year who was now serving time in a penitentiary for some kind of parole violation for a crime I had been unaware of. We were going to have a child together, he had rescued me from my miserable life, and I was going to stand by him.

Things quickly changed and the work/living situation I was in ended. I stayed with a friend for a few weeks while I looked for a longer term solution. I moved in with a cat lady – seriously, she had over 15 cats and a couple of ferrets, I don’t know how I wasn’t constantly sick from the smell.

I signed up with a local program that paid a stipend to students working toward their GED and offered employment skills training. I reconnected with my best friend from high school and managed to avoid my family, for a while.

Throughout this time, as my baby was growing inside me, I was keeping myself busy with survival and trying to keep the long distance relationship with his father intact. For me, abortion was never an option and I was too alone, selfish, and idealistic to believe that adoption may have been the better choice for him. “Papa Don’t Preach” was my anthem.

Late Winter turned into late Spring and I got on a city bus one day and my grandmother called out my name. I hadn’t heard that name for about seven months. It was about a week before I turned 17. I was completely taken aback and I couldn’t deny her. By the time my birthday rolled around, in early June,I was back in the family fold and living with her.

Within a few weeks, my love was released and we began trying to put our lives together. Conflicting requirements and demands from the conditions of his release threatened to put him back in custody. So, we ran, again in the early Summer. I was 17 and four or five months pregnant and we were on the road hitch hiking again.

By late September or early October, we met up with a truck driving couple who took us home to North Carolina with them. We were welcomed into the small, rural community. He got a job, we were given a place to live in an old trailer off of an isolated county road, and I was set up with prenatal care for the first time since finding out I was pregnant.

The same day I had my first pre-natal visit and got sent to the hospital for an emergency ultrasound, my love was being seen in the ER for a work injury. I was there because the doctor heard what he thought was two heartbeats and two echoes. I was huge and it was all baby. He thought I was pregnant with twins. I wasn’t. I was just really close to term and they figured that by November 2nd or 3rd we would have a baby in our arms.

A few days later, at the end of the same week, my love was in a car accident while on his way to work. I don’t remember if he lost his job or was just losing time. The fact was that everything these people, his employer, and the town knew of us was a convoluted mixture of truth and lie, sincerity and con. The end was nigh.

I was a week overdue and we were packed up in the ’78 Oldsmobile Cutlass we’d been given by a generous soul, and we were leaving town like a couple of thieves in the night. I was miserable and consumed with guilt and anxiety. Less than 100 miles out and it became clear he needed to get me to the hospital, I was in labor.

We made it back to town and I was admitted to the hospital sometime between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. I never dilated beyond a two or three. They broke my water hoping to speed the labor along and then prepped me for an emergency C-section. By 12:30 in the afternoon my son was born. 10 lbs 14.3 oz of round, Michelin Man roly, baby boy with an inch thick mat of black hair and deep brown eyes.

I had been put under for the surgery because the epidural didn’t take. So, it was hours before I got to meet my son. They had already fed him and I was so weak from blood loss and groggy from the gas, that I didn’t spend much time with him that first day.

We were in the hospital a full seven days while I recovered. I don’t remember getting much time with him. I’d wanted to nurse him but he wouldn’t latch on and in that place and in that time, the choice to breastfeed wasn’t a popular one.

I remember tension and stress. I needed a blood transfusion but it was the height of the AIDS scare and the man I’d given myself to didn’t want me to receive donated blood. I did it anyway.

At some point during the week I was told that I had not been allowed to stay in labor long enough and was given the surgery because the doctor had wanted to make it home in time for Sunday supper. I was also told this particular doctor had a history of delivery complications that resulted in the death or disability of babies of color and that we had been fortunate since I was clearly not white.

The day I was released from the hospital, we drove out of North Carolina. We lived in our car that fall and early winter as we made our way back to the Pacific NW.

Without follow up medical treatment and proper time to rest and heal, my surgical wound became infected and scarred badly. The uncertainty and instability of our lives exacerbated the underlying mental and emotional health issues. The bonding and attachment that we both needed, never had a chance to happen. By the time he was two, I had lived out of cars and hitchhiked across the country for three and a half years. A month after his second birthday, he saw his father almost kill me and then walk out the door. I was 19.

I love my son with all of my heart and I am so proud of the man he is and who he is growing to be. We lived through so much together and I know his presence in my life has given me the will to live and keep trying all these years.

He’s getting married in January. I see a man committed to his faith who is surrounded and supported by a community of people committed to loving, supporting, and encouraging him and his love and their future together.

I was once asked what my definition of success was. It was something along the lines that my son would grow to be healthier, more stable, and farther ahead in his life than I was at the same age. His success is mine as well.

Happy Birthday Marco. I love you forever.



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