Thanks, Luke, for generously allowing me to post your birthday letter on this blog.
April 27, 2013
I am not sure if you know this, but each year, on my birthday, my dad writes me a letter. I thought this might be a good year to start that tradition with my own kids . . . in fact, I started with William this past July. So now it’s you, dear, sweet boy. Happy SEVENTEEN. I cannot believe that. 17.
Wow. In April, 1996, I flew to Rhode Island to see my brother’s senior thesis show. Jenny Mischock and Grandma and Grandpa were there too. I remember three things about that trip: I had to pee constantly (turns out it was because I was in labor and did not know it), I slept in the hotel closet (to avoid Grandpa’s awful snoring), and I visited Fred Fraleigh and held his pet iguana. I was teaching at Dominican High School that year and my principal told me that I could not miss school on Monday, so I ended up having to change my flight. The airline was giving me a really hard time about changing my ticket to get home early and Grandpa Pat yelled at them to “have a heart for a woman who was almost six months pregnant.” Eventually they changed my ticket and I ran, pregnant and crying, carrying luggage, to catch my flight.
I returned to Milwaukee, feeling kind of sick and immediately went to bed. I woke up around 6am and could hear Dad in the shower. I could feel that the bed was wet and when I peeled back the covers, I saw that the mattress was covered in blood and so I started to scream, loud enough to get dad out of the shower. We called Grandpa Pat, who was still in Rhode Island and I kept screaming, “I lost the baby, I lost the baby.” I called my doctor who instructed me to go to St. Joe’s hospital, where a few hours later, doctors determined that part of the placenta had torn away from the uterine wall and they said you were okay. They were going to send me home, but one nurse insisted on an ultrasound. That nurse might have saved your life.
That ultrasound showed that I was in full on labor and that you could be born any second. I was admitted to the hospital immediately and given steroids (for your lungs) and another drug to stop the labor (which made me throw up and have fuzzy vision). I stayed like that for over a week. People visited, they wrote love notes to you in a journal, dad’s work sent amazing flowers, Shirley fed me pineapple and strawberries, Grandma washed my hair in bed, a nurse tried to shave my legs with a terrible razor and then put this awful Elizabeth Taylor lotion on them that Lolo brought for me . . . The drugs they had me on made me loopy and so I told your dad that if you were a girl we would name you Dakota Rain after the time we drove through the Dakotas (which we had never done). One day during my stay, a young intern came in and I don’t remember what I asked him, but I remember that he responded, “It won’t help your son.” That is when I knew you’d be a boy, but I did not tell anyone.
Doctors from the NICU came in to tell me all of the awful things that were likely to happen if you were born early. They said that your lungs would be weak, that you were likely to have many disabilities. You could be blind or handicapped or possibly die. It was at that point I requested all doctors to leave me alone, to only tell me what WAS and not what COULD be. I asked everyone I knew to light a candle at 8pm every night and say a wish or a prayer for you.
On Saturday, April 27th, I the drugs stopped working and I could no longer keep you in. Grandma and Grandpa were asked to go to the waiting room, a NICU team arrived, and only sixteen minutes after the doctors arrived, you were born. 2lbs, 6oz. Instead of saying, “It’s a boy,” doctors said, “He’s pink,” meaning you were alive and breathing. They let me kiss you and I could not believe how familiar you looked and when I bent down to kiss you, my lips covered your whole face.
That moment, bending down to say hello to you for the very first time, well that moment feels like just yesterday. I was so young and I had no idea how to be your mom, but one of the reasons I love that song Lullaby so much is because of the lyric, “Life began when I saw your face.” You, my first born, have taught me the true meaning of love and I am so very proud of the young man you have become. You are the most kind hearted, empathetic, wonderful guy in the world. I know it has been a very hard and trying year for our family and I hope that throughout all that you have not forgotten, how precious you are to both dad and me.
We did not name you Dakota Rain. Dad liked the name Luke because we had just watched Paul Newman in the movie Cool Hand Luke. The school I was teaching at back then was a Catholic school and they had a young priest sub for me during my leave. The priest told me that Luke, in the bible, is represented by the Bull, just like the zodiac sign of Taurus is. That baby is “strong like bull,” I thought. Luke, too, is the saint of physicians and artists . . . which seemed like a perfect fit for artist parents relying on doctors to keep you alive. But the most powerful thing about your name is that in the bible, Luke, Chapter 18, Verse 27, God says that all things are possible.
If you are to learn anything from me and carry it with you always, Luke, know that the power in your name holds truth. All things, all things, are possible. You can achieve anything you dream. You can create the life you want. That you have already found Haley might show you that dreams can come true. I wish you nothing but happiness and that throughout your life time, you feel loved.
Happy birthday. I love you beyond measure.