My father taught me to love birds. Not intentionally, but it was the result of the bird feeder he watched through our living room window when I was young. He kept it filled throughout the winter, and would announce the names of the birds as they came. Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee. Sometimes, a Cardinal, brilliant red against the backdrop of Pennsylvania's gray wintertime skies. Never a bluebird, (of course, bird feeders aren't their thing) but they are my favorite, and just as striking against the dreary skies of late winter and early spring.
I watch for bluebirds. This year, they first came back in mid-February. I looked out my kitchen window to see a pair of males fighting, claw and feather, over our bluebird house. The bluebird house is a bit old and dilapidated, but its location is prime, in the middle of our garden not too far from the fruit trees, with open acreage all around. In previous years, we've noticed the bluebirds like to perch on our garden fence, especially after their eggs hatch and they are feeding young. So I understand why those two lovely blue gents were fighting. They went at it for hours. As I watched them, I eventually caught sight of their mates, sitting not too far from the fray in the trees. At least, I am fairly certain it was two lady bluebirds. One of them had the classic lady bluebird look, gray above a pale red belly. The other, though, took some puzzling out. She was strikingly white, with just a smattering of gray on her wing feathers.
When I saw her, I think I went into a bit of a panic. I grabbed our Audobon guide and hastily thumbed through it, wondering what white songbird existed that had escaped my notice for 35 years. When I found no such bird in the book, I went to the Internet, where I eventually found an image of an albino (bluebird.http://www.sialis.org/leucistic.htm). By the time I thought to take a photo of my own, the lovely white lady, along with all the other bluebirds, was gone.
I felt grateful to be visited by this mysterious pale lady. I felt especially blessed, as though I had come upon a sacred white buffalo. I felt compelled to watch and wait, sure that this blessing would come upon me again. The albino bluebird did not return, but the blessings kept coming.
My mom taught me to love babies. Not intentionally, but it was the result of seeing her come home from the hospital with four more in the years after I was born. She kept them bundled and close to her, and was attentive to their cries. Watching her, I learned the joys of inhaling their fragile smells, folding their little clothes, cleaning their smooth and perfect skin. Never a day goes by that I don't embrace my sons without an image of my own mother snuggling her babies in my mind. But as much as I love my sons, my heart and my arms long to embrace a little girl. Not having a daughter at times feels like the greatest failure of my life.
Having a daughter is unlikely for me. My husband has given me three sons. He was one of two sons, His father was one of two sons. His father's brother has two sons. If those odds aren't daunting enough, I suffer from a high rate of miscarriage. (For more on this, see my post from October 2013 http://www.centervillesubsistence.com/tiffanys-heart-health/2013/10/12/in-case-of-miscarriage)
So when I discovered I was pregnant a couple of weeks after seeing the albino lady bluebird, I became disproportionately excited. In my mind, an image of our daughter began to swirl and congeal in the mists of my mind. As the weeks started to feel like eons as pregnancy fatigue set in, my heart felt even more excitement. Surely, the odds were in my favor. I was a person chosen for special blessings. This feeling was magnified again when I came upon another natural oddity.
My sons taught me to love visiting our creek. Not intentionally, but it was the result of hunting them down there every time they got the yen to throw rocks into the water and vanish from the play yard. At times, our burbling creek is the most relaxing and replenishing place on earth. So I sought it out one tired day not too far into March. It was not a particularly nice day, but it was above freezing, which seemed incredibly special after the frigid winter we had just endured. I sat on the rocks and watched the boys try to break up the ice along the edges of the creek, smashing it with bigger and bigger stones. But then the sun that had only peeked at us all day vanished, and the sky began to spit a cold rain. As I stood to go, taking Ali's small hand, I looked down and saw the curled underbelly of a dead crayfish.
My sons also taught me to love crustaceans. Not intentionally, but it was the result of them stopping to admire and wonder over the doomed lobsters in the tank at the grocery store. I was overjoyed to find a crayfish at the creek. I picked it up and turned it over in my hand, holding it out for the boys to see. To my astonishment, we discovered the crayfish, from the tips of its tiny intact claws to the end of its curled-under tail, was strikingly blue.
Back at the house, I was back on the Internet again. Our find was unusual! Blue crayfish (aka the Monogahela Crayfish) are found only rarely within the Appalachian Plateau region where they live, and this was the first crayfish of any kind we have found after living here for eight years. With this, the crayfish took on mystical meaning for me. Surely, as I began to feel more tired and more nauseous day-by-day, I was finally going to be blessed with my own long-awaited oddity. Surely, I was going to birth a healthy, perfect baby girl.
True albinism is estimated to occur in one out of every 1,764 birds. Bluebirds are just one species of bird figured into that estimate, so an albino bluebird must be exceedingly more rare than that. A blue crayfish happens along here where we live approximately every eight years. And the odds of my miscarrying a pregnancy are sadly now 5 to 3. I began to spot the second week in April.
At first I knew the worst was true. But then I was back on the Internet, reading heart-warming stories of women for whom bleeding during pregnancy is normal. I read story after story of women who rushed to the hospital expecting to find they were miscarrying, only to have an ultrasound reveal a strong and healthy baby growing inside. I was in the midst of a kind of winning streak, and the odds, though long, seemed to be in my favor. While I waited for the day of my appointment with my midwife to come, I existed in world tinged rosy with hope. But as I was ushered into the ultrasound room, filled with dread over entering again into the same place where I learned that our last baby had died en utero 19 months before, a feeling of finality settled upon me. I knew even before the kind ultrasound technician showed me the image on the screen. No fetal pole. No small and steady heartbeat. Only an empty sack. The emptiness seemed to expand then until it consumed the whole of me. As I sit here waiting for the cleansing which will take that empty sack away, that feeling of emptiness persists in me still.
My husband taught me to look for the blessings in everything. It was no doubt intentional, a lesson I truly needed to learn. He did it while I was reeling from my first miscarriage seven years ago, the one that prompted me to leave my job as director at the Sayre library. As we talked and planned, and I worried over leaving a job that I loved but that stressed me unduly, he pleaded with me to stay calm and walk forward. "The baby is not the gift," he said. "The idea is the gift." The idea was that the universe would take care of me, of us, as it saw fit. With those words, I embraced our plunge into a more uncertain existence. I do not regret it.
And so it is that again, the baby is not the gift. What is the gift? I am grateful to know that whatever it is, it exists already. I just need to find it. I just need to embrace the world of blessings and teachings that I already call my own, stay calm, and walk forward into the uncertainty.