Have you ever wondered how different your life would be now if certain things had happened? My son would be 11 today . . . at least according to my due date. But I don’t know when his actual birthday is because he was never born.
You know that superstitious saying? The one that says, “bad things come in threes?” Is it supposed to be reassuring? Well I don’t find any reassurance in it.
It was late July, 2006, and I was twelve weeks pregnant with my second child. The pregnancy was a surprise since I didn’t think I could get pregnant anymore and I had just turned forty. We’d had trouble conceiving our daughter, who was now eight years old, and had tried off and on for years to have a second child. I had given up and thought I was incapable of getting pregnant anymore. I had even been to a fertility specialist. Surprise!
Of course I was elated when I found out I was five weeks pregnant—a week after my fortieth birthday. Yet, there was this tiny voice in my head that was like, “What? You’re pregnant at FORTY?” Okay, so maybe the voice wasn’t so tiny. All right, yes, it was shouting at me. Sorry, what can I say? I had doubts. I thought forty might be too old to have a baby. Actually, by the time the baby was due I’d be almost forty-one.
Therefore, this pregnancy was bittersweet. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. There would be a nine-year gap between this baby and our daughter, I was about to start a new job, and my husband was less than thrilled. To make matters worse, I had severe morning sickness nearly every day for two months. It was worse than my first pregnancy, by far.
But by the time my twelve week prenatal check up was here, I had fully embraced the idea, had decorated the nursery over and over in my head, and already bought my daughter a cutesy ‘big sister’ t-shirt.
I was heading into my second trimester, the morning sickness was dissipating, and I was getting some energy back. I was optimistic and letting myself get excited at the prospect of having a baby in my forties.
Just when I was supposedly ‘out of the woods’ of the risk of miscarriage—I had one. The doctor said he wasn’t able to detect the baby’s heartbeat.
By this point I’d already had ultrasounds, seen the fetus moving on the screen, and heard the heartbeat multiple times. I was not prepared for the sudden shock of hearing the words “missed abortion” and “dead fetus” inside my womb. They scheduled me for surgery the next day, and forty hours after being told that my baby had died inside me, I was no longer pregnant.
A week later, my paternal grandfather died. He was 86 and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. I flew up to Seattle by myself to attend the funeral, and my dad asked me to write and deliver the eulogy.
The day I got back from burying my grandfather, on a Sunday afternoon, our four-year-old cat, Patrick, suddenly collapsed. His breathing was slow, shallow, and labored. His sides were grotesquely heaving in and out. I hadn’t even unpacked my suitcase yet.
Patrick was a voracious eater and a bit on the chubby side. He was affectionately named after the soft, lovable, not too bright starfish on “Sponge Bob Square Pants.” The name fit the champagne-colored Burmese aptly.
I had to take Patrick to the animal emergency clinic twenty miles away because our Veterinarian’s office was closed Sundays. My daughter insisted on accompanying me, and she held Patrick on her lap in the car.
The Vet at the clinic gave Patrick something to help him breathe easier, and they ran a few tests. They said he was having congenital heart failure. They said they could do surgery but there were no guarantees, and the prognosis did not look good. They told me I had to make the decision to put him down. Are you kidding me? He was only four years old! I had to decide this now? It wasn’t fair.
My beautiful eight-year-old daughter looked up at me with her big brown eyes, brimming with tears, and asked, “Mommy, can they save Patrick?” It was more than I could bear. I didn’t know what to do so I called my husband, ever the voice of reason.
When I told him how much the surgery would cost to save the cat, and that there was no guarantee it would even, in fact, save him, it was a no-brainer decision for my husband. But I was the one who had to tell our daughter that we had to kill her sweet kitty. Damn it.
I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, and told the Vet I’d made my decision.
While they were getting the injections ready, my daughter said her goodbyes to Patrick. Then I told her she had to wait in the lobby and that I would be out in a few minutes. I felt she was too young to witness the euthanasia of her precious cat. As it was, I felt I made the right call because I had a difficult time keeping it together myself, holding his head and stroking his fur while I watched the light go out of his eyes.
That night I cried. Well, that’s an understatement—more like broke down and wailed loud heart wrenching sobs that wracked my body as I grieved and mourned the loss of my unborn child, grandfather, and cat. I had held it together for two deaths, been strong for my family, and even spoke at my grandfather’s funeral with nearly perfect composure. Why is it that the third thing, a cat of all things, is the one that broke me?
On today, what should be my son’s eleventh birthday; I look back on that week of the terrible triad. I shake my head as I recall crying the most for the damn cat.