Friday, August 30, 2013

Happy World Normal-Feeding Awareness Month

As August comes to a close, I’d like to recognize August as World Normal-Feeding Awareness Month – or as many call it – World Breastfeeding Awareness. I'd also like to acknowledge that my job, my calling, my vocation is a bit different, but it's definitely what I am/was supposed to do! For several decades I have done what I can to help new mothers breastfeed, including working as a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) for the last two-plus decades.

Yes, yes, I know quite well that a mammal mother’s own milk is something truly magnificent. In addition to providing optimal nutrition for an infant’s growth and development, only human milk offers the immunological support that has allowed our species, Homo sapiens, to survive and thrive. However, even as my head understands the statistics involved with that equation and gets that “shit happens” within the complexity of the human body, my heart often feels cheated and cries, “Brandon had nothing but his mother’s own milk for more than six months! How could this happen? How could he have developed a disease in which his immune system didn’t recognize and kill these f’n mutant cells?”

What I don’t feel cheated of, what I wouldn’t trade for all the riches on earth or in heaven, what is worth everything and more is the relationship he and I shared through breastfeeding. I doubt I can adequately convey the intimacy of the breastfeeding relationship – the communication that develops between mother and child during and because of it. It is unique with each child. It is often difficult to achieve, but once achieved with one child, a mother will scale any metaphorical mountain to experience the breastfeeding relationship with each child.
Brandon (and me) at 6 months
Brandon was my second baby. I had scaled a couple of metaphorical mountains to breastfeed his older sister, and I couldn’t imagine it could be more exhilarating. I simply couldn’t imagine I could come to love another infant/child as much as I loved my first. Then he was born, and it was love (for me) at first sight. Still, life is life, and our breastfeeding relationship had its ups and downs, especially in the first month. Once we crested the mountain of that month, we soared. All mountains afterward seemed miniscule in comparison. He and I were très sympa, a French phrase for which there is no good English equivalent.

To really breastfeed is to let go as the adult, the mother, and trust the immature baby to set the pace, which is completely contrary to most of so-called “modern” parenting philosophies. Yet it is in this letting go, this acceptance of the unique infant-/child-paced daily rhythm that one really gets to know this infant/child as an individual. To really breastfeed is to appreciate and celebrate that rhythm. And when both mother and baby are enjoying the uniqueness of their own special breastfeeding relationship? Well, for that brief period of time, whether for weeks, months or a few years, a mother truly knows what it is to be the goddess of the universe. It is beyond magical.

Brandon and I enjoyed a close, a very special breastfeeding relationship for his first 27 months. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, the time from when he was first diagnosed with “poorly differentiated squamous cell carcinoma” until his death was precisely 27 months. I cannot believe this is coincidence,

So I bid adieu to World Normal-Feeding (Breastfeeding) Awareness Month – not to World Human Milk Awareness Month or World Lactation (Synthesis of Milk) Awareness Month. As I do so, I thank the Creator of all for the gift that allowed me to let go and share in the awe and the responsibility of divinity as the short-term goddess of the universe for Brandon and for each of my infants/children.

Everything else Brandon and I shared over his life on this earth began with that first, that special breastfeeding relationship. I wouldn’t trade our 27-month breastfeeding relationship for anything. No, not for anything.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

That was then, this is now...

 Last year at this time: 
  This year:
Please, invite me to anything, anytime, anywhere. Please, distract me as much/as often as possible. ("I'm dancing as fast as I can!")  

 Happiest in my shell (again)
Difficulty concentrating whether reading books, multi-tasking, etc.

 Same as last year
Find weird comfort in Facebook (Fits short attention span?)   
 Same as last year
Going from feeling fine to crying in 1 second

 Same as last year
Didn't know there could be so many tears - not just teary but rolling down the cheeks tears

 Same as last year
Making guttural noises I didn’t know could come out of my mouth

 Same as last year
A basket of Sympathy cards on a table in the hall

 Still on hall table - untouched
Profound sorrow, missing the person of our Brandon (at all ages/stages)

 More profound/deeper  
Appreciate the gift that is each of my children
  Stronger than last year

Monday, August 5, 2013

Here Today

Two years ago, August 4, 2011, Paul McCartney gave me several minutes with Brandon that I treasure beyond all possible measure. However, I ask your indulgence with a bit of backstory before I describe the gift of a precious block of time spent mothering my “baby” who is no longer with us on this earth.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of Sir Paul McCartney (Macca), and this story begins Monday, June 13, 2011, with an announcement that Paul McCartney was adding an August 4th Cincinnati date to his On the Run Tour. He was to play at the Great American Ball Park (GABP) – home of the Cincinnati Reds. I immediately contacted our son Joe(y) in the Chicago area. He’s as much of a McCartney fan as I. The two of us had attended McCartney’s Back in the U.S. Tour in early 2002 and his US Tour in the fall of 2005. Learning the new tour was headed to his hometown, Joe said he would definitely make the trip to Cincinnati for a third mother-son epic evening of Macca and music.

To get tickets I put out a plea to 10,000 of my closest email and Facebook friends with the hope that some were Reds season ticket holders who wouldn’t be purchasing tickets for themselves, as ticket holders had first dibs on concert tickets.  Knowing I could always sell them later if inundated with tickets, I agreed to purchase whatever anyone came up within certain sections of seating.

I hit the ticket bonanza. I had more than enough tickets in the closer floor sections for Joey and me. There were more than enough for husband Joe and our three in-town children, plus any of their significant others who chose to go. We’d have to divide up, but no one would have to sit by him/herself. And I still had four “leftover” tickets (2 pair), which were quickly snatched up by friends.

During the third week of July, between the June flurry of finding tickets and the August 4th concert, Brandon had another regularly scheduled bout of in-depth testing with the interminable wait afterward, followed by the dreaded appointment during which one hears good news or bad. The news was bad. The PET scan revealed several more “hot spots” in more troublesome areas. (I’ve come to HATE the seemingly innocuous euphemism “spot.” It does NOT fool anyone. Just say the f’ing word! The word is “metastases” or simply “more – and more – f’ing cancer.”) There was to be more chemotherapy with the addition of a new chemotherapeutic agent, which is a euphemism for “poison.”

Brandon being Brandon, by the day of the concert he’d seemed to regroup and from all outward appearances had returned to his usual “just get it done” mode. He arrived at our condo once he learned Joey and his family had arrived. After some chitchat and watching Sir Paul’s motorcade pass by on the road paralleling the Ohio River directly across from our condo, he and Joe decided the three of us must drive to the GABP and purchase concert T-shirts to wear that evening. Off we went. Brandon chose the one sporting a British flag and Sir Paul’s name. With frayed collar and sleeve bands, it looked as if it had been well worn and well washed. He loved it, especially as I complained about paying for something that looked so beat up but cost the same as the perfectly good ones.

Joey and I are ready to rock from our 5th row seats
We changed into our concert Ts when home again, everyone else arrived and off we went. Brandon was on his own that evening. (Christina couldn’t go as she was traveling to an out-of-town family wedding.) His ticket was with his dad, his older sister Elizabeth and her husband. Carolyn and her husband were a section away from them. Joey and I got the fifth row tickets that were a bit left of the stage. To see well we had to shift to the right, but we quickly settled in for what we knew would be an unforgettable evening.

I just did not know as the concert opened how unforgettable it would become for me.

As dusk turned to dark and Sir Paul was about halfway into three solid hours of his music, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and there was Brandon next to his brother. He’d noticed there were a couple of “no shows” in our row and thought he’d join us. Joey changed places with me so I was between them with Joe on my right and Brandon on my left. Sir Paul rocked on – as he still does so very well – and the three of us danced and sang and enjoyed the music, appreciating the opportunity of sharing the experience with each other!

Blackbird came to a close amid cheers, whistles and clapping, and Sir Paul waited for the sound to die down. He then began to speak about the importance of not waiting to tell those who are important whatever it is you want or need to say to them. He began his introduction of the next song with these words, “…Just saying, you put it off and what happens is it can be too late. And that person passes away for instance. You think, ‘I wish I’d said – I wish I’d said some of the stuff I was feeling inside…’” He then segued into an explanation of how he’d written Here Today for John Lennon after he was murdered December 8, 1980.

I was shifted to the right so I could see the stage, but I felt something to my left. Or it may have been that I perceived a lack of movement, an unnatural stillness amid the party atmosphere.

I turned to say something to Brandon. He stood there sobbing, tears rolling from his eyes down his cheeks. I wrapped my arms around him and drew him closer, and his arms wrapped around me. Throughout the song, a so very precious few minutes of time, we stood there clinging to each other for dear life – so very dear life – sobbing and shaking. At some point Joey had became aware of us to his left, and he was embracing both of us by the end of the song. 

The next song was the very upbeat Dance Tonight, and it broke the mood. The heartfelt group embrace ended. Brandon told me it was Sir Paul’s words about letting others know what you want or need to say that hit him. (It had also “hit” me as he’d said those words, so perhaps that’s the reason I turned toward Brandon when I did.) But now it was time to resume singing, dancing and enjoying, which we did. Eventually, all three of us moved to join dad Joe and Elizabeth, so that we could all enjoy being together for the end of the concert. It’s during that part of the concert that Joey snapped the photo that catches Elizabeth leaning on her dad, me looking much as I did (like a wet noodle) at the end of the Beatles concert I attended August 27, 1964, and Brandon adding rabbit ears to the back of my head for the photo.

Rabbit ears...
How do I explain the humbling significance of those minutes when Brandon briefly revealed his vulnerability to a fear that most likely was his constant, unwanted companion? How do I explain the priceless treasure of being there for him in those minutes? Brandon died 10 months after the concert, and cloaked himself in an armor of good-humor, which remained in place during those months. He neither cried nor complained when with us in spite of many reasons to do so. Some may call that denial; I think it was more self-protection and his way to preserve hope.

So how do I thank Sir Paul McCartney for his words and a song that briefly opened a door to Brandon’s soul and afforded me a memory that sears my soul? A memory that allows me to remember the feel of his hug. A memory in which I, as his mother, could still comfort and let a precious son know how much he is loved at a time when it was what he needed. (And a memory that showed both sibling and mother the sorrow and support of a brother.)

A few weeks ago I attended Paul McCartney's Out There Tour in Indianapolis concert with a friend who’d bought one pair of my leftover tickets in 2011. I had a banner made to try to thank him. I have no idea whether he could see or read it when I periodically unfurled it during the three nonstop hours of music. No worries. I predict Macca has many more concerts left to perform; at 71 years of age, Sir Paul seems to have more energy than my three toddler granddaughters put together! Meanwhile, my banner is stored, waiting for the next concert, the next chance to wear a cherished T-shirt with frayed neck and sleeve bands, and another opportunity to say, “Thank you, Sir Paul, for the music and THE memory!”

My indestructible Macca banner unfurled July 14, 2013
Here Today
By Paul McCartney

And if I say I really knew you well,
What your answer be?
If you were here today,
Uh, uh, uh, here today.

Well, knowing you,
You’d probably laugh and say
That we were worlds apart.
If you were here today,
Uh, uh, uh, here today.

But as for me,
I still remember how it was before.
And I am holding back the tears no more.
Uh, uh, uh,
I love you, uh.

What about the time we met? (what about the time?)
Well, I suppose that you could say
That we were playing hard to get.
Didn’t understand a thing,
But we could always sing.

What about the night we cried? (what about the night)
Because there wasn’t any reason
Left to keep it all inside.
Never understood a word,
But you were always there with a smile.

And if I say I really loved you
And was glad you came along.
Then you were here today,
Uh, uh, uh, for you were in my song.

Uh, uh, uh, here today.