July 11, 2002

We didn’t care if it was a boy or a girl. As long as it’s healthy.

“As long as it’s healthy.”

That’s what everyone says. Secretly, I searched for a penis on the monitor. I was positive this one was a boy. I just had a feeling, and I already had a name in mind for him. Ryan Austin.

As long as it’s healthy. It’s a common pleasantry people say to pregnant people that really isn’t pleasant at all. Oh, no. Platitude. That’s the word. What if it isn’t healthy?  That’s a question no one considers. What’s the answer? Oh, it’s not healthy? Well, as long as it’s alive and thank goodness for medical breakthroughs. What if it isn’t alive? As long as you still have a uterus, at least you can try again?

The ultrasound tech wasn’t saying much but I knew it was taking longer than it should. I had been through these tests plenty of times before with my older two. She kept pressing and rolling the device over my gooey belly, observing the same parts closely over and over again.

Heart. Right kidney. Left kidney. Heart again. The tech took a seemingly endless sequence of pictures.

She’s just trying to be as thorough as possible, I thought to myself, though I wasn’t easily convinced.

Heart. Something’s wrong.

Right kidney. This doesn’t seem right.

Left kidney. Something’s missing.

“So?  Is it a girl or a boy?” My husband, Glen, piped up eager to hear the news, unaware that anything unusual was going on.

“It’s a girl,” the tech replied without so much as a glance in our direction.

Glen was grinning ear to ear and he was oblivious. But I knew.

I forced a smile as I said my silent goodbye to “Ryan” and didn’t yet dare say hello to this girl who didn’t have a name.

Possibly a left kidney, something in the heart –a valve maybe. Definitely a penis. What else is missing?

The doctor came in to talk to us. Glen still wasn’t getting it when the doctor told us heart and kidney defects are very common in children with genetic defects and that he suggested an amniocentesis. “The test can detect missing genetic material, as well as duplications or extra chromosomes.”

“He said they can do surgery, right?  She’ll be fine.  We don’t need that amnio test, right hun? It sounds too risky. I mean, they put a needle in there.  The doctor said there’s a chance you could miscarry.”

“A very small chance.  Women have amnios all the time. They’re very common.”

“I don’t think we should do it.“

“It’ll tell us if the baby has a chromosome disorder. IIt’ll help us be able to make informed decisions.”

“I don’t like the idea.”

“You don’t understand. There’s something wrong with this baby.  We are taking a risk having it without more information. Yes, we would be taking a risk of losing it if we do the amnio but the risk is almost nonexistent and the reason I want to do it is because I’m not sure I want it.  If there’s something really wrong, I want to be able to make that choice. Do you understand?”

“What, you mean abortion?”

“We could start over, Glen. We could start over.

This will change our lives.”

September 3, 2012

I cleaned up the third poop storm of the day. That’s what we called Tori’s penchant for sticking her hands down her diaper before we have a chance to catch her.

Tori’s almost ten. She can’t tell us–she’s nonverbal–and we haven’t been able to get any sign language to stick. Tried picture cards with little progress. We’ve potty-trained for 5 or 6 years now to no avail. So when she seems to be occupied enough with books or toys to chew on, and I try to get some dishes done–and I even keep checking on her every few minutes–sometimes a poop storm happens.

This is what it’s like. You’re scrubbing away, maybe daydreaming about pretty much anything, then you smell that unmistakable smell that brings you back to reality. You drop the sponge, rush to the living room and there she is with poop all over her hands, down her arms and legs, in her hair, even in her mouth. And it’s like slow motion.


It’s on the floor, on her books and toys.

You’ve tried leotards, zip up jammies. You wish there were onesies her size, those baby t-shirts that snap around the crotch.  But she’s ten and she manages to get her hands in there somehow no matter how you dress her. She’s pretty determined and poop is warm, squishy fun. And she’s giggling and you’re not in the mood at all.

How are you going to get her in the tub and clean her up, then keep her out of the way so you can clean up the mess on the floor and everything else? Then clean the tub. You’ve dropped to a heap on the floor, bawling and screaming no over and over again and she’s still smiling at you and still putting poopy fingers in her mouth.

And you think of your husband who always works weekends and odd hours, who never has to deal with this crap and resentment festers on top of resentment from last time and the time before. Because you valued his opinion and honored his wishes more than your own, and now where is he? Granted, he’s working. But he’s not here. 

You count to ten.  To calm yourself down.  To count the years you’ve been doing this.  And to count the minimum number of years you probably have left before you start counting the next ten because you know adult services are scarce.

And there are certain thoughts you have to keep from reaching your mind–from wherever such thoughts originate–because there are things you can’t possibly unthink once you think them. Those thoughts you extinguish come from deep within your gut, that same place your voice of reason resides. That voice you ignore every fucking time. It’s hard to distinguish between reason and the unthinkable sometimes.

You have to calm down. Deep breaths. It’s not her fault. It’s not her fault. It’s not her fault.

How am I going to do this? I ask myself this every time.

“I don’t know HOW you do it.”

And I don’t mean how am I going to get through cleaning up the mess this one time, I mean all of the messes, all of the times.

“You’re so strong. I couldn’t do it.”

Oh, you couldn’t?  Tell me, what would you do instead?

How am I going to do this for the rest of my life?

“She’s so lucky she got such great


I love her.  I love her. I love her.