Friday, March 13, 2015

dear Janneke

Dear Janneke Grace,

On this night, in the middle of the night, exactly six years ago, your mother and I travelled to West Lincoln Memorial Hospital. This was the same hospital where, long ago, I was born, and where your older sister Sophia was born. We were anticipating your birth, and we were excited to meet the midwives - and finally meet you!

Months before you were born, we announced your imminent arrival via Facebook with the status "Ralph thinks Rachel will be a great big sister."

We still think that.

But your arrival and the six years that followed took your mother and I on a path that we were neither prepared for nor wanted to travel.

There was a full moon that night.  I remember noticing it as we were driving down the QEW to Grimsby.  It's funny how I remember the little details of that night vividly, and then there are other things I completely forget. I have trouble remembering the faces and names of the midwives, nurses, doctors, and paramedics we met on your first day. And we met many. But I remember where I was standing when I called Oma, Grandpa, and Mrs. Elzinga (Carolyn) to tell them about your birth.  The full moon was fading, and the sun was coming up as I stood alone on the sidewalk in front of the hospital, tearfully announcing your arrival before I lost the energy to tell anyone else.

It was a difficult birth for Mom...and for you.  For a moment, that night, we thought we might never get the chance to meet you.  You barely had the chance to take your first breath, but through the work of some wonderfully talented midwives, you survived a very difficult birth.  We waited to hear your first cry, so we would know everything was ok.

We waited all day.

Outside of a few moans, you never cried on your birth day.

Moments after your birth, the midwives placed you in a warmer in the birthing room. The midwives quickly called the doctor and were relieved when you started breathing on your own.  Your face was bruised and purple from a difficult birth, but the first thing that I noticed about you in the warmer was your hands.  Your hands were just like your sister Rachel's.

Mom was eager to know how you were, even though she was physically and emotionally spent.  She couldn't see you, so she asked me how you were doing. I could barely speak, but my first words to Mom after you were born were, "She's just like Rachel."

Not too long ago, I was asked, "What was the hardest day of your life?" I didn't have to think long: March 14, 2009.

While you were in the warmer, I remember saying to Mom...with tears in my eyes, that it isn't fair to you that I'm so incredibly sad on your Birth Day. "It isn't fair to Janneke. Parents should be happy when their child is born."

We did not have the same sadness with Rachel's birth as we did with you. But I was so incredibly sad, and that sadness still visits me from time to time.

We spent most of your first day trying to figure out what hospital you were going to next.  Later that day, it was decided that you would be transferred to SickKids in Toronto. Just before midnight, on your first day, we watched a medical transport team pack you up and put you in an ambulance bound for Toronto. Your mother and I drove the opposite direction and went home.

The next day, early Sunday morning, I got up and spent the day with you in Toronto.  Mom stayed home to rest. I spent most of that day beside your bed, talking with nurses, doctors, and specialists. At one point, when I was feeling very overwhelmed, I decided to go for a walk outside the hospital.  I didn't get too far.

I sat down at the corner of Gerrard and Elizabeth and wept.  It seemed like time was standing still, and I just cried and cried.  I'm not sure how long I sat there. Given the location, I am sure I was not the first person to weep at that corner, and I am sure I wasn't the last. When Mom and I have to take you and Rachel to Toronto, I always take a second glance at that spot.

This may sound funny, but sometimes I am saddened about my sadness regarding your birth. Your arrival, even though it brought me to tears, has profoundly impacted so many people. You bring a smile to the face of people you meet. The world would be a better place if more people could do that. Your presence has shaped your older three sisters and your mother and I in so many good and positive ways.  And you give the best hugs.

You are similar to your sister Rachel... but you are not "just like Rachel" like I thought you were on your first day. You have a mind of your own, and you are definitely a character, wandering around the house in your walker, without a care in the world. You are loved, and you bring grace and joy wherever you go.

I am not sure you will be able to read or understand this letter.  But I am happy you are a part of our family.

I love you to the moon and back, Janneke.

Happy Birthday.

Love, Dad.

To the Moon

O graceful moon, I can remember, now
the year has turned, how, filled with anguish, 
I came here to this hill to gaze at you,
and you were hanging then above those woods
the way you do now, lighting everything.
But your face was cloudy, 
swimming in my eyes, thanks to the tears
that filled them, for my life
was torment, and it is, it doesn't change,
beloved moon of mine.
And yet it helps me, thinking back, reliving 
the time of my unhappiness.
Oh in youth, when hope has a long road ahead
and the way of memory is short,
how sweet it is remembering what happened,
though it was sad, and though the pain endures!
-Giacomo Leopardi


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ralph, for sharing your feelings. Your beautiful words for Janneke will stay with me for a long time. samm

BLOOM - Parenting Kids With Disabilities said...

Thank you for that very moving and honest piece. It really touched me.

BLOOM - Parenting Kids With Disabilities said...
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