It’s been almost two months since I’ve been here from having my second son, Patrick, and it feels like the time flew by. It feels good to be back and I hope that this message finds all of you well. As my due date approached, I thought of article topics to write and even tried to get ahead of the game, but to no avail. It was right after I had Patrick that I knew I wanted to write this piece as a sort of reflection on my life as a parent up to this point and what has shaped my view of my role as a mother. I had plenty an opportunity to think while I was in labor for 14 hours on February 27th; so many thoughts flooded my mind, but the memories of first becoming a mother two years ago and the moments that immediately ensued stuck out most vividly. The thoughts compiled here took me weeks to think about; they may not even flow well, but I felt like I needed to share in case any of you could relate and find solace.
Going into labor this second time around carried a mixed bag of emotions for me – the birth of my first son Lucas was pretty much textbook perfect. It was quick, I was able to go all-natural with no medications, and I vividly recall noting how I forgot the pain of every contraction as soon as they were over. With such an easy labor to compare this birth to, I was a bit anxious wondering if it would go just as smooth. Looking back, I feel like I was honored with such a relatively easy birth because immediately thereafter, I felt like a giant piece of my life started to crumble away and I had zero control over it. It was almost like a trade-off. With the immense joy of becoming a first-time mother to the most perfect little baby came the heartbreak of the phone call from my mother a few hours later telling me that my father who had been battling brain cancer for 9 months at that point was starting to fail and needed to go into hospice. I was in California. My parents were in Florida. My heart and stomach sank. Throughout my entire first pregnancy, I was anxious with each day that passed, scared that I would be stuck across the country and something horrible would happen to my dad and I would not be able to get to him. Thankfully, he battled bravely and was doing rather well in comparison to other patients with the same diagnosis. We all had hope. And it wasn’t until right around I gave birth that it all started coming apart – it all started becoming so……real. As I held my newborn, just hours old, I looked into his face and pleaded with God that I could get this child to see my father in time.
Fast-forward. I started going into labor with my second son a few days before my due date and I couldn’t have been happier, as the end of this pregnancy was wearing on me. Chasing after a now-two-year old while working and carrying on with life definitely changed the circumstances and I was ready to have this child. I knew it would bring a whole new set of challenges, but I was excited. I also was a bit antsy as to how this labor would go. I vaguely remembered the labor pain from two years ago, but I went into this with the expectation that it would be quick and easy like my first. My expectations failed me a bit, as this birth was very different, but I am glad, for it allowed me to really reflect on what being a parent means – and it all started with how I was a child to my parents first – namely, my dad during a time when he needed me most. As my labor started and with the full intention of going all-natural and drug-free again, I realized very quickly that the only thing that alleviated the pain was of all things, to fast walk. I fast-walked for hours around the house, doing laps in the dark while everyone slept. What. Would. I. Do. With. Myself? It wasn’t like I could read or watch a show to pass the time. I realized becoming lost in my thoughts was my only option and my mind immediately went back to two years ago. I thought back to my first birth, how I got through, how I felt…and my mind sort of skipped over that and kept going back to my dad and how I wish he was around to see the birth of his second grandchild. What made it even more ironic this time was I was in my mom’s house – the house she and my dad retired to…the house I cared for my dying dad in for several months. Here we are now living in Florida and I was about to give birth in a hospital right around the corner from where my dad was. By 4 am, with contractions strong and close together, I decided it was time to go to the hospital and my husband and I expected what happened the first time around – for me to be 9 cm dilated and pretty much ready to deliver. Yea, not so much this time around. I was only 4 cm dilated but felt like I had already run a marathon and had three more to go. I felt a bit defeated and then it hit me that I was in for a different labor. The pain was more intense this time. I seriously needed to walk walk walk just to be able to function. I kept thinking back to two years ago. Once I got admitted and assigned a labor and delivery room, I hit the hallways and just walked. According to the nurses and my husband, I fast-walked miles. And the whole time, with each killer contraction that brought me cringing to the tips of my toes, I reflected on the memories of my experience two years ago. If I could get through that, I could get through this. “That” being the journey I had from once my first son was born to once my dad passed away. More so, I realized, I reflected on this time so vividly because it was exactly two years to the day that I took Lucas, my first son, to Florida to see my dad. February 27, 2012 was when I stepped into a harsh, sad, scary reality with a tough trip, and here I was, February 27th, 2014, giving birth to another child. Coincidence? Perhaps.
That journey was exactly three months long, but seemed like an eternity at moments. I couldn’t leave California to see my dad until my son was two weeks old and cleared by the doctor to fly cross-country to Florida. I was anxiety-ridden each day that passed, worried that each time my phone rang, it would be my mom with bad news. I held out hope. We Skyped with my dad every day so he could see his grandson and have something to look forward to – to stay strong for, as he started to really decline and lose the desire to live once he went into hospice. I struggled with this, for I felt completely trapped and out of control. Here was my dad – the man who was the strong rock my entire life (before my husband), thousands of miles away…and losing a battle he tried so hard to fight. I would look down at my infant child and just think, “Why?” Why would someone have to go through this pain? Why did I have to go through this pain at such a joyous time in my life? What did all of this mean? I still don’t know the answer to those questions, but all I knew at that moment was life is short; my dad dedicated his entire life to his family – my mom, my sister, and me, and now it was time to show that to my son.
The day arrived when Lucas, my son, turned two weeks old and we had his doctor’s appointment where I nervously prayed he checked out fine, for if he did not, we were not headed to Florida. Such pressure for a newborn. My dad was in grave condition at that point – to the extent where I was getting hourly updates from my sister and mom who were with my dad in hospice house. As my husband drove Lucas and me out of the parking lot of the doctor’s office in beautiful Monterey, California and on our two-hour drive to San Francisco airport, I stared in silence at my child the entire way. That’s when it hit me that I was about to embark on the most difficult journey of my life…..and I was with a 14-day old human being. My human being. I admired my baby; he held such a grace and love about him. I just wanted the nightmare I was experiencing to go away. I was petrified deep down as my husband dropped us off at the gate in the airport for our midnight flight. Bags full of infant necessities packed, my newborn nestled in the Ergobaby carrier I had strapped as close as possible to me, and my hopes of making it in time to see my dad in time, we were ready to board the plane. I felt horrible doing this; I felt guilty – what if my baby got sick from someone on the plane? What if he didn’t do well on the plane? Why wasn’t I at home nestled with my newborn like most brand-new moms are? I realized this was my reality – because I wouldn’t have it any other way; I wouldn’t leave my dad. I wouldn’t deny him the joy and right of holding his grandchild. Instead, I looked at this situation as a blessing and time to step up. My son was going to learn at a very young age what parents do for their children and what children do for their parents.
The entire experience to Florida was rather nightmarish. From the rude airline personnel who refused to let me board ahead of the entourage of business-class jet-setters (many of them protesting the gate attendant, wanting me to board) to some of the rude passengers standing in line who literally called me “crazy” to my face for traveling with a 2-week old (they retracted rather quickly when I explained I was happy to be “crazy” if I got to see my dying dad in time), to the non-stop turbulence the entire 6-hour plane ride that pretty much felt like would crash the jet….I kept asking myself, “why?” Why. Was. This. Happening? Why was this happening to me at that time? When we finally landed, instead of feeling relief, I felt a pit in my stomach. I knew at that moment I was one step closer to having to face one of the hardest realities of my life – a situation I never thought I would have to prepare myself for at such a young age. But then I looked down at my baby who, despite the horrible things that were going on around us, was perfect the entire time. He was the stabilizing force; he grounded me. I was his mother and needed to do the same for him. I also knew I needed to do the same for my dad. With that, I hustled through the airport, greeted my mother and a dear neighbor at the gate, and we immediately went to hospice house.
I wasn’t expecting what I walked into. I had never been in a hospice house before. Everyone there acted like they had known me and Lucas for years. All of the nurses were oogling over Lucas before I even got to my dad’s room. It was the oddest paradox of feelings, really. Once I got to the door of my dad’s room, I felt like I was in a dream. This wasn’t really happening. I heard music from inside. The music therapist was playing his guitar for my dad; “Yellow Submarine” to be exact, and to this day, I don’t ever want to hear that song again, for that is when I looked at my father and he looked like a shell of a person. I didn’t even recognize him. He looked like he was ready to die at any moment. I just broke down and cried. What scared me the most was the uncertainty. What was next? Could I handle it? What a dichotomy this was – I was holding a newborn – my son, in front of a dying man – my father. Without even thinking, I just took Lucas out of the carrier and placed him on my dad, who was in and out of consciousness. I had come to realize hospice house had already started giving him the dosage of drugs when someone is ready to transition and at that split second, I wasn’t having any of it. Something just snapped inside of me. I got pissed. I was not going to let my dad die at this moment. I kept talking to my dad and touching him until he realized that I was there; that his grandson was on him, and not to sound like a cliché, but at that moment I realized my dad wasn’t ready, either. The second he felt his grandchild and knew we were there after muttering to me, “I didn’t think you would make it,” he knew he had to fight through this a little longer. My father always taught me to never give up; to be tough – to battle through it. He and I looked at each other and we both knew that this was not his time just yet…and I was going to do all that I could to give him back whatever strength he needed to make it happen. It was my mission. I just gave birth to a child, but felt like I also gave my dad a bit more of his life to him, too.
I stayed by my dad’s side for the rest of the day. Lucas and I napped with him and let him know it was OK. I’ll never forget that night once I got back to my parents’ house. It was about 1 am and the house phone rang. My mother, sister, and I dreaded answering it, as we thought it was hospice telling us my dad passed away. Rather, it was my father on the phone adamantly stating he wanted out of hospice house and wanted to come home. I packed Lucas up in the car in the middle of the night and we immediately headed over there to comfort my dad. When I walked into his room, it was as if there was a different person occupying my dad’s bed than the frail, dying man whom I saw a mere 12 hours before. My dad refused his meds, which annoyed one of the nurses (who seemed rather intent that my dad was due to die), and then started doing leg lifts while lying in bed to strengthen his legs so he could leave. I was in disbelief. He turned and looked at me and said, “I’m not ready. You need to get me out of here.” That’s when I felt like the roles had reversed – for all of the time my dad came to my rescue in my life, it was my turn to come to his. “Absolutely. You don’t belong in here,” was my reply and we sat and laughed and did more leg lifts, with Lucas contently napping in the crook of my dad’s arms.
I worked hard (against some people’s wishes) to get my dad out of bed, showered, moved around, and helping him to fulfill his wish to leave hospice house. While the staff members and our family were shocked to see the transformation, the one thing that could not be denied was that Lucas seemed to have brought my dad back from death. Literally. The doctor told me that my father probably would have passed away over the next few days with the condition he was in before Lucas and I arrived. After several days of hard work in hospice house, my dad got his wish and we took him home, which is where he wanted to be. Over the next three months, it was a challenge, for his needs were great, and my mother was totally burned out at that point, so I pretty much took over with my dad, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. For the first few weeks he was home, we got him from being pretty much paralyzed due to the brain cancer to getting up and walking with his walker on his own. I brought him to the pool to swim, which he said was the only true feeling of physical freedom he had. I pushed him and Lucas in his wheelchair on walks through the neighborhood. I stayed up countless nights with him, for he couldn’t sleep due to the steroids for brain swelling, and Lucas was right there with us. I realized then that when most parents of newborns were beyond exhausted with nighttime feedings, I welcomed it, for it was another dimension of my father and I bonding with Lucas when everyone else was asleep. I still do not know how my body did not break over that time. With the amount of days I spent staying up 24-hours in a row nursing Lucas, caring for my dad, and running errands when I could, it was short of a miracle.
With each day that passed, my dad got better before he got worse again after the second month, when I had to return back to California for two weeks. I looked at these days as blessings, not challenges, as I got to share them with my newborn, who gradually grew up to be 3 months old before our eyes in a very unique situation. He was able to witness what it means to care for someone with unconditional love. Each night, I would lay there and pray that if I was ever in the situation my dad was in, that Lucas would care for me the same way (and I didn’t think this in a selfish, demanding-expectation-way). I knew Lucas was a special little guy from the moment he was born; but even more so to have endured this journey with me. It’s a bond that I will never have with anyone else; on the nights I would sit there crying by myself in fear/sadness/anger/frustration, I would hold and rock Lucas and look at him and know the love I had for my dad and vice-versa enabled me to love and care for my child in the same way. My dad and I were always very close. Despite the conventional spats that occur between a teenage daughter and her parents, I never had that with my dad. He was strict and held high expectations, but was also beyond proud of anything I ever did. I wanted my son to feel the same thing. My dad was not perfect, but I learned to forgive him for any of his short-comings, as he was just doing the best he could the best way he knew how. Each night during that time, I would reflect back on all of the wonderful memories I had as a child – and how my father was a part of so many of them. I wanted this for Lucas as well, and knew that while he wouldn’t remember that period in his life with my dad, I would make sure my dad lived on through him with the memories my husband and I would create for our sons.
Sadly, at the end of three months, my dad deteriorated again and it truly was his time to pass. I am forever grateful for the time Lucas and I had with him. I feel like we created a lifetime of memories together in just a short period of time. When my dad finally passed away after three final weeks of a harsh, painful battle with brain cancer, I felt a sense of relief – for him. It was time for him to no longer suffer, to know that he did great things throughout his life, and most importantly, that his legacy will live on through his grandchildren. To this day, I see a twinkle of my dad in Lucas and know that Patrick, despite never having met my dad in person, carries his spirit, too.
When Patrick was finally born, I held him in my arms and felt an overwhelming sense of joy and relief this time. I did not have to worry about my dying father. Rather, I felt my father’s presence the entire day and if anything, I feel my father had an intervention with me giving birth on February 27th – as if almost to give me back that day two years ago when I was so scared to cross over into a part of my life I never anticipated. Patrick’s middle name Duke is in honor of my dad, for he shall carry his greatness and memory in some way.
The point in writing this rather lengthy article is to share that as parents (or even caregivers), we carry the message and love that was imparted and ingrained unto us from our parents. We will not always have our parents around, and the times we have with them may not always be the best. However, we ultimately will pass that love, care, and legacy on to our children. We learn how to be the parents we are to our children from what we felt from our parents. While extremely painful, the last moments I had with my dad will be some of the greatest memories I can share with my children. We are all going to be faced with many hardships in life, but know that you can muster the strength to get through them all – especially because you are setting that example for your children. Before my father died, he made sure that I promised him to never take a day, my health, or anything or anyone in life for granted, for it’s not only until you lose those things that you wish you had them again. This is why I do what I do – not only for my own children, but for anyone who can learn from what I share. Our health is a gift that goes beyond us feeling and looking good; it’s an opportunity to have more days with the ones we love to live life to the fullest and create memories that will live on forever.
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods, products, and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow Megan on Twitter (@MPowerNutrition) and like her on Facebook (Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC).