Thursday, June 3, 2010

Telling our families

I knew my mother would be thrilled when I told her I was pregnant. In fact, the idea of telling her was one of the things I most looked forward to when I found out I was pregnant. I never envisioned telling her in a little room in the ER of our local hospital. I thought it would be at their house, over dinner, with our family gathered around. We would give her the little photo album I had purchased, the one that said "Great Moms Get Promoted to Grandma" on the cover. She would open it, read it, get it, smile and cry her eyes out with happiness. Everyone else would slowly realize too and be thrilled.

It did happen that way, for the most part, except, we were in the ER. Before I got pregnant I was in the wait until you're out of the first trimester camp, thinking it would be to hard to un-tell people if we had a loss. But when my mom's health started to decline, and out of fear and stubbornness she refused to go to the doctor, we decided she needed an incentive and something to hope for, someone to get better for. Michael-Scott and I decided to tell her on a Sunday. We had seen her the night before when we had gone with her, my dad and my grandma to the New West Symphony. She was in bad shape. Her right arm, which had been continually swelling for a few months, was gargantuan, puffy, red and awful looking. She was now having trouble breathing and could hardly exert herself. I had myself convinced it was just lymphedema, from her lymph nodes being removed or damaged somehow during her bilateral mastectomy in 2004. It couldn't be anything worse, she was fine, a little short of breath, but up and about. Her cancer had been eradicated by the surgery, and she had a good appetite, and as far as I knew, no other major problems, aside from the breathing.

Michael-Scott and I decided that the next day we'd formally announce it to his family and then mine. Then we would have a serious talk with my mom, convince her that she needed to get whatever was making her arm swell checked out, to make sure she'd be around to meet her grandbaby in January.

On Sunday morning, Michael-Scott went on a hike with his 18 year old brother, JME. When they returned, I headed over to their house. I love my in-laws, and I know I'm lucky that we get along so well. Along with everyone else we know, they'd been pestering us about when we were going to have kids since the day we got engaged. As with everyone else, we'd stuck to our story that we were waiting until May of 2011 to start trying. When we changed our minds at the beginning of this year, we kept quiet, wanting a chance to finally have some privacy about our love life, and excited about being able to shock and surprise everyone.

When I got to their house, MS was playing video games with JME and his other brother, Tommy, who is 8, my father-in-law Jeff camped out on the couch. His sister, Jackie, was helping my mother-in-law Traci make pizza for lunch. I was nervous and anxious. MS and I hadn't discussed how we were going to break the news or what we would say, or more importantly, when. We got ready and made lunch, everyone came to the big table in their kitchen and sat down, making sandwiches, laughing and talking. Finally MS said we had some news to share. He told them and it was suddenly a blur of hugs and squeals and crying. It felt like such a huge relief to have them know. I had been hiding it for weeks, and was so thrilled to be "out."

As my father-in-law hugged each of us in turn, he said to MS: "I didn't think you had it in you!" Then turned to me and said, "I guess now you have it in you!" I had to laugh, even though I was a bit embarrassed at the graphic nature of the comment.

Lunch continued happily for a few more minutes, until I got a call from my grandma. I knew my mom was going to go to the ER, but I was so sure they'd find it was something minor, give her a shot or a prescription and send her on her way that I wasn't that worried. My grandma said bluntly, in her stoic, measured way: "Your mom is bad. Her cancer came back and it's all over her body." I nodded quietly, equally stoic, a trait grandma and I shared, and hung up. I quietly explained to my in-laws what happened and left in a rush to get to the hospital.

Driving there felt like a dream where your feet don't work and you feel like you're underwater, movements hindered and slow. Every light took forever and my car wouldn't go fast enough. I picked my tearful sister, Brooke, up from my parents' house and we headed to the hospital. Arriving, Brooke was in tears, I remained calm and explained to the triage nurse what we needed. They let us in to see my mom, making my grandma leave. Dad was in there, the opposite of stoic, a horrible, weepy mess. My mom had been crying too and her face was as puffy as her arm. I don't remember who explained that the swelling was caused by blood clots, and that they had found tumors in her lungs and lymph nodes. The same cancer we thought was gone from her surgery six years ago had lingered and been growing all this time. The ER nurse was sweet and warm, with red hair like me, which comforted my mom. She assured us that we were getting my mom the best doctor around, an oncologist who was treating her uncle.

We held hands and talked and tried to laugh and not cry. My dad was a mess and kept bursting into tears, which would upset my sister and my mom. We all took turns going in and out and finally realized no one cared about the one visitor at a time rule and all crammed ourselves into the crowded little room. At some point MS arrived and we were alone with my mom. We gave her the photo album, just as we had planned, and she slowly realized..."You're pregnant? Right now?!" She was thrilled and started crying, saying that today she had received the worst news of her life and the best news of her life. Just as we hoped, the idea of the grandbaby firmed her resolve to fight and live.

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