Today is my daughter Megan’s birthday. Had she survived she would be 25 years old. I had a few nicknames for her, Meg, Meggie, The Megstress, Meganator, Daddy’s Little Girl. Of all the names Little little was her favorite made her smile everytime, but Mighty meg was her most descriptive. Mighty Meg suffered a heart condition from birth and fought a valiant fight right from the start. Megan needed a heart transplant but organ donation, especially back in 1990, was extremely hard to come by. The need of her transplant was a soul searching bittersweet ordeal. The thought that someone else will lose their child before Megan could receive a heart was immensely painful both as a parent and as a human being. Meggie eventually did receive a transplant however with a compromised immune system she caught the virus that ended her short life. Mighty Meg spent way too much of her 19 months and 17 days in hospitals but through it all she remained brave. I didn’t even know what brave meant until I was like six, but Mighty Meg had an instinctive braveness about her. When her Mom and I were burning inside from the torture of watching as our child was jabbed with needles in search for a connection to a tiny vein she squeezed our fingers and got through it. Even after it was over and her Mom and I were still reeling in the tears Meg gave us a smile. She wasn’t happy, relieved maybe, but somehow Mighty Meg knew we needed her smile. That’s how Meg was, a mighty force that even in the darkest of hours managed to make us smile. So today I celebrate her birthday but not as a sad occasion, I don’t want to mar the memory of her birth with negative energy, but with fond remembrance as a tribute to what she gave to us in her short time here.
I know this sounds strange but I often wonder if species other than humans experience nostalgia like we do. I really don’t think that’s too far fetched because we now know that elephants experience something similar to empathy or sympathy when one of the herd passes on. Films have documented what can only be described as communal mourning in elephant ritual. Youtube is brimming with video’s of elephants as well as hundreds of other animals acting more human than humans. You can watch various animals interacting in loving ways with other animals or with us. I’ve had dogs and cats myself that were capable of giving and receiving love despite what any expert may say. Love can’t be studied in a textbook or laboratory, it has to be experienced. So I wonder do animals go back to the jungle where they were born, or the tree’s they played in when they were young, and have an unexplainable sense of happiness just being there? Maybe those elephants credited with never forgetting feel emotional tie ins with experiences such as birth. Can Mama elephant remember each of her birth’s fondly? Why not, many of us who have witnessed the birth of their children remember the delivery. We associate emotional events with many things, we can hear a specific song and be transported back to our first love. We do love our nostalgia. I mean look at how we celebrate our own birthdays. Congratulations to us we lived the length of time it takes the earth to revolve around the sun once again so lets have some cake and blow out some candles, that was quite a feat.
Despite the fact that each and everyone of us has a natal anniversary if we live another year we find it reason to celebrate our accomplishment. We see the date of our birthday and it triggers a comforting feeling in us perhaps because that day marked our entry into the world. It’s actually quite quaint when I think about. We develop bonds whether good or ill with events that mean something to us on an emotional level and assign it an anniversary. Today that emotional association for me is simply the date February 26, the day I witnessed the birth of my daughter, Mighty Meg. This would have been her 25th birthday and I find myself as I do every year wondering what she would have been like if she survived. In my logical mind she can never age past 19 months because that’s how long we had to enjoy sharing her life. So today I want to share my recollections of the day of her birth, the day Megan Laurine Jaret entered into our world. As is often the case especially with me, a profoundly sad emotion can be tempered with an upbeat and humorous memory to ease the sorrow of the heart.
It was near the end of February and Megan wasn’t due for another two weeks. It was so cold it felt like March was making a test run of it’s obligatory coming in like a ferocious cold lion. A bitter cold Northeast coast icy wind kind of lion. I was working in midtown Manhattan and Maureen and I lived across the Hudson River in Jersey City. We were a young and hip New York City couple so of course that’s where our child would be born. Being well versed in the Lamaze method of childbirth we were cool, calm, and collected when the moment arrived. Maureen called me from our 34th floor apartment in Jersey City to inform me that her water had broken. She announced it very calmly so I responded in typical suave male fashion. I freaked. After rapid firing all the proper lightning round questions it was agreed that the contractions were sufficiently far apart and time permitted that I was able to come get her. Once home we would have plenty of time to organize for our trip to New York Hospital. I left work and got on the PATH train for Jersey City.
By the time I got home the contractions had become impatient and we were at the point where the doctor told us to go to the hospital right away. So now this hip young urban boy had to head back to the city he just left with his pregnant and dilating wife, but this time in style, no pregnant wife of mine will be taking the PATH train! I called for a taxi then proceeded to get all of our “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” ducks in a row. Hospital bag was already packed waiting in the closet for the big call. A change of clothes, some bathroom items, a photo the instructor called the focal point so Maureen has something to take her mind off the mind blowing pain ahead and a snack or two. In recalling my childbirth class training I asked Maureen if she wanted me to make some Jello knowing she would be hungry after a hard day of labor. My uncanny ability to reason under pressure was noted, “Jello? Are you fucking kidding me? Jello?! I don‘t have time for any fucking Jello!” I thought about explaining that by the time we get through with all this child birthing stuff she might be hungry and could at least drink a semi set up gelatin but then remembered the smoke coming from her eyes when she just recently inquired if I was “fucking kidding“. I opted to remain silent. Maureen headed into the bathroom I assumed to use it one last time before leaving. Our phone rang and it was the front desk informing me our taxi was ready and waiting outside the door so I called into the bathroom, “Babe, taxi’s here, we gotta split.” Thankfully her voice had returned to that sweet sexy rhythmic fashion, “Just a few more minutes, I’m putting on my make up!” Admittedly being male I was unaware of the profound need of proper make up and asked why in the world would she needed to put on make up right now, I mean we are on the way to have a baby not a night out dancing?” Satan voice returned, “I said I’m putting on my make up and I’ll be done in a fucking minute.” I considered returning the volley with a “Oh so you don’t have time for Jello but you have time to put on your make up”, but the amount of stress she had placed in the “I’ll be done in a fucking minute” combined with my love of life alerted me to the total non necessity of such a statement so I opted for a weak, “Okay Babe, but we gotta hurry, Taxi’s waiting and you know how slow our elevator goes.” I took the silence to mean nothing more need be said by either party.
Okay, I’ll admit she looked great but I still puzzled over who would be seeing us. I could also sense nervousness in her which assured me I wasn’t alone in my panicked approach. Once I explained to the driver our situation the wide eyed look on his face assured me that now the power of three was rocking in nervousness. I can only imagine the thoughts rippling through his mind, a delivery during a delivery and all but to his credit he assumed control of his situation, got us both safely in the back of his New Yorker (ironic, right?) and began the trek through the Holland tunnel. The driver was quite animated and calmed us with his talking telling us about his children and the pregnancies therein. We were in the Holland Tunnel when he showed the first sign of concern. “Oh oh, some kind of jam ahead.” My heart sunk below the seatbelt and panic laughed proudly at how easily it got me shaking. “Don’t worry I’ll change lanes, if we get pulled over we’ll probably get an escort.” He crossed the solid lines a number of times not giving a shit about laws and calmly got us through the tunnel and onto the FDR like the pro he was unassisted by the police. When we pulled up to the front of the hospital a nurse was waiting already with a wheelchair because the driver had alerted his dispatch. I jumped out running around to Maureen’s door where the nurse looked at me with deadpan stare, “Can’t you read? All deliveries in the rear.” She pointed to the sign which I stared at vacantly, “Only kidding honey” turning to another nurse said, “This one here is in a daze, this should be fun.” They pushed Maureen down the hallways and I followed like a lost puppy dutifully shouting out breathing time signatures when contractions warranted. She was wheeled into a triage room where they set up the machines for her vitals, “Better call upstairs and get a room ready, we have a woman booming here!” The stand up comedian nurse showed me how to read the tags determining the severity and frequency of contractions and in seconds we were out of triage and into a birthing room.
Any sliver of confidence I had was shattered when I heard another woman in the throes of delivery screaming in pain in the next room. All the way through the room! I ripped open our hospital bag, “Where the fuck is the focal point?” I could hear Maureen breathing “he he he hoo, he he he hoo” and was relieved when I found the photo she chose for her focal point. “Are you fucking kidding? I don’t want a picture I want this to stop.” I had begun to think everything in the book and Lamaze class was total bullshit so we went off script and into our own rhythms. We looked at each other, read the contraction sheets, and when I figured out how to tell her they would be coming soon and they would be ending soon it eased the tension. Maureen just breathed whatever signature she wanted not listening to any command from any non medical professional at this point. The contractions came in waves, some hit the shore much harder than others. One wave in particular was so intense Maureen’s hands gripped my arm like a tourniquet, so tight it cut of circulation to my entire body. It would become a week long temporary tattoo of a blood red tribal symbol of a ten finger vice grip attack. Trooper that I am I whimpered silently. At 4:10 in the afternoon little Megan Laurine entered the world and her beautiful tiny face lit up the birthing room with joy. All the pain and discomfort of the past few hours was forgotten. Well mine was, Maureen was still in pain and discomfort, but she endured it with a smile when she held Megan for the first time.
So that’s the sweet part of the memory, the memory I choose to remember on her natal anniversary, even though like every other year I still wonder what she would have been like. I have no doubt she would have been a fantastic big sister to Kellie and would have her masters in something by now or she would have some impressive title. Maybe she would be the CEO of some big corporation just to piss me off. One thing she would have been at 25 for sure is a deeply loved child who could do or be anything she set her mighty mind to. If you are an organ donor we thank you from the bottoms of our hearts, if you’re not we hope you will consider becoming one. Recycle life.
Happy Birthday Little Little, I love you.