I had forced my husband to go with me on a froyo-run (y’all know that’s a thing) when I received a phone call from one of my best friends a few years ago.
“What up, Alex?”
“Why are you being all gangster?”
“Uh, yeah, anyways…I called because I wanted to tell you something and only a couple of people know….”
“Did you cut your pinky toe off?”
“What? No…I’m pregnant.”
Her voice faded. I only remember one of my froyo gummies dropping to its death on my thigh. She seemed as confused as I was.
“What??? Are you SERIOUS??! Dude, Congrats? I mean, congrats!! I don’t know what to say!! Oh my gosh, how are you feeling???”
We proceeded on talking and talking for the next few minutes, recalling some things in her past, making fun of her husband getting her pregnant on their honeymoon, then congratulating all over again.
Alex was told during her late teen years by her gynecologist that she was not able to bear children when the time came due to certain things in her uterus. I can’t remember the reason. But I knew this, and so we talked about how our adopted children would grow up together in a lot of our conversations. You can imagine how confused we both were at the news of her being pregnant. It was a miracle.
The next few months consisted of looking up things online (Pinterest had just become a thing and we were newbies at it): everything from what mothers should know at each stage, terminology way out of our career-fields, and bombarding one another with texts full of joy and unexpected situations. We certainly did not expect what happened in the upcoming months.
Our group of friends joined up for a fancy luncheon at Le Peter Piper Pizza near our homes to give Alex some extra belly rubs and love before her doctor’s appointment later that afternoon. Not that I noted it, but Alex was particularly calm and happy, sipping on her soda and excited to be able to gobble cheese like no other (pre-baby, she had awful lactose intolerance symptoms). Everything seemed right.
It was not until a couple of hours later that Alex sent a group text message, sounding a bit confused, slightly frantic, and needing some help.
“Our doctor just told us there is something wrong with Noel’s heart…please pray for us so that the next few months we know what to do about it as we learn more about it.”
My heart sank. But it was almost just for a minute. It’s one of those things when you say, “You always hear about the doctor telling you bad news about your baby, then he/she is born okay, and everything goes back to normal. It’s normal to worry! It’s okay.” And so because thoughts of unfamiliarity of death, special needs care, and fear, I immediately ran to the “it will be okay” card. You know, the card you run to when you want to hide your true feelings in order to make others content and comfortable. So I shoved the ugly thoughts away and prayed for the doctor’s news to be false.
I’m not sure how everyone else prayed in the upcoming months, as the doctor had additional information in each appointment:
You might miscarry.
Your baby may not make it.
Your baby will make it, for a couple of breaths.
I know my prayers were a bit wild. “God. Just make it all go away, save Noel on earth, and keep them at peace,” is usually what I went for for hours daily.
People began to support Alex and Caleb through financial donations, text messages, nice gift packages, and phone calls. Alex distanced herself from society somewhat, then she would return with some more news, then she would go into hiding once again. Some days she was hopeful, some days she was hopeless, some days she was in complete peace, and nonetheless, her feelings were a tangled mess of uncertainty.
I didn’t understand what she was going through, therefore I never knew what to say to her. On the few phone calls we had during the end of her pregnancy, she seemed paralyzed and going through some emotions, whether people were trying to teach her how to feel or how to react to this situation, or words that she should be saying according to friends, I could hear the desperation in her need of God like no other time she had called before. She was tired, but constantly fighting. She always believed, and still does, that God is the best Healer.
I remained on the phone with her, puking some words here and there “It will be okay. I’m sorry…I am praying for you.” I stopped saying all of these things. I stopped because they weren’t helping. So I finally decided to just listen to her be happy, be sad, be upset, and cry. After she had a moment or two, I stayed in silence, then I left with “I love you.” That’s all I could come up with, and I hope it helped a little at times.
Time flew by, and I remember checking my phone like a crazy person during a few of my final exams in school. Alex was about to have her C-section any hour now and my heart was racing. Sure, at the time I became a licensed Speech Therapist-Assistant I also found out I was going to become an aunt 500 miles away and I had to find a way out of the class very fast. Luckily, my friends Celeste and Eileen were texting me all of the updates from her delivery.
I came prepared. The night before my finals, I packed a suitcase, said goodbye to my fiance, and planned on leaving my last class to El Paso, TX. Eight hours of Taylor Swift and nonstop prayer, I was finally in El Paso. I text my mom, “P.S. I am sure I received all A’s, I am becoming a Speech Therapist in a few days, and oh, I’m in El Paso but I’ve gotta stop by and see baby Noel first.”
I drove up and saw a few cars parked in Caleb and Alex’s driveway, and I took a deep breath. I just realized I had driven here on a whim, what if they weren’t even home? I had told nobody, so I quickly reverted back to my anxiety. Was Noel okay? Why are there a lot of people here? What is happening…
I knocked on the door, and Caleb’s parents answered it. Their smiling faces were excited to see me, and I quickly ran past them, straight towards the living room like a hound looking for a bone. I turned the corner and saw Alex.
“Brissa!” She ran straight towards me and flew herself at me. I hugged her tight and I said, “I made it. Well, you didn’t know I was coming. But I’m here (I probably took a few short deep breaths here). Ok, Noel??”
Alex ran straight towards a tiny little potato and threw it at me. You think I’m exaggerating, but she was really excited to show off her daughter. She did not hesitate and passed on Noel, and looked at me excitedly. “Look,” Alex said, “this is Noel. Noel, this is Auntie Brissa. She is the fun aunt.” I started crying, but I didn’t want to be another person to be taken care of in the room so I instead smiled and kissed Noel.
I kept her for a few minutes while Alex caught me up on the surgery, the rush, the feeling of knowing Noel had already defied all timelines the doctor had given her regarding her life. She was precious in my arms and so delicate.
I will never forget one of the first times Caleb changed her diaper. My friend Leslie and I joked that he looked like he was unstuffing a turkey. He picked her legs up violently and got a new diaper, forgetting he was manhandling a tiny baby. Alex, of course, scolded him and told him to “be careful”, while Leslie and I giggled at the scene.
We watched her get her first sponge bath at home. We watched her yawn when the commotion was getting too intense. We watched her cry without a voice. I watched Caleb kiss Noel’s feet. I watched Alex caress her hands. We watched her get her pictures taken at home.
My drive home later that weekend was a bit more horrifying than my initial anxiety arriving to El Paso. I was already expecting a job in San Antonio and I needed to get my license paperwork in as soon as Monday morning rolled around. Within two hours of driving away from my hometown, Alex’s brother-in-law sent me a couple of messages I had missed due to being out-of-network. “Did you get my other text?” The second one read. The first one read:
“Noel has passed to be with our Heavenly Father. Thank you for all of your support and love. We will release details for her ceremony soon.”
I pulled over immediately and started hitting the steering wheel with full force. My horn blared in the desert and I was hoping nobody came over and asked me if I needed help. I cried for a while. I reclined my seat and slept for a few minutes. I woke up, and Noel had still died, it wasn’t a nightmare. I cried some more, and I didn’t know what to tell my best friend, how-to be there for her, or if I should go back. After a long time reflecting in my old car, I decided to move forward. Because, what else in life can you do? I began driving, thinking about all of the people who would be there at home with her.
I pictured Alex in shock, mad at God, then loving God, then being angry again. I thought about how she would have to go through postpartum and grieve a child’s loss. I thought about how she would encounter depression in the most joyous of occasions.
It’s her third birthday today, and many of us still grieve her loss. Alex and Caleb have moved forward, but not without thinking of Noel. A piece of Alex’s heart was stolen as a mother whom carried Noel, and it is a bittersweet feeling for me to see new mothers with their children. Sometimes I am happy they are so happy on social media with their child. Sometimes I get angry seeing mothers exploit their child on Facebook because I want to protect Alex’s feelings. But God has her, not me. It’s a learning process for me, as well.
In the same way it was hard for Mary to give up her son, Alex had to surrender her daughter back to God and say “let it be.”
Noel has confused my future a lot. Her existence taught me that anything can happen. That we are all given a timeline, but we don’t know when it ends, especially for a child. How will I know if I am able to bear children? Will I even want to tell anyone I am pregnant because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings? Not only do I have fear, but Noel created hope in my life. That with fear comes God, and that we run to Him whenever we feel shaken or scared.
Noel taught me to love immensely. I don’t care what people did in my life to hurt me, Noel was a fresh breath of air for me to move forward.
I have learned to be there in silence for Alex. And, she is still my best friend, even after what she went through, our lives are so different. We relate differently now, naturally, and we gravitate towards people whom have walked the same path as we have. She is not just a mother whom lost a child once. She is not just person whom still desires a baby in her life. She is Alex, and always has been. A new Alex, and an old Alex.
Noel, on this day I would like to honor you, and both of your parents. In the life you have now, you are happy and free from uncertainty. You are living a full life as a spunky little Mexican-Canadian 3-year-old. Now, let’s go eat some ice cream.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. – John 6:47