The third pregnancy was not planned. We were advised to wait four to six months before "trying again," so my expectations from the start were already tainted by fear, seeing that faint pink line emerge and worrying that maybe my body wasn't quite ready. How it might let me down again, when I was still weak, and anchored by grief over the baby I lost unexpectedly just six weeks before. At 4 and a half months, while home alone in the bathroom talking myself through what would become the longest hour of my life waiting on help. Trying to comfort the curious 18 month old calling for me, pacing the halls outside the door as a crew of fireman finally came to pull me out onto the stretcher that rolled me out through a faint drizzle falling that grey October morning. In which all I remember about the ride was thinking about the unspoken horrors soldiers in war endure (surely worse than the one I living) and pull through, while begrudging the humility of the low light on in the back of the ambulance that kept me illuminated in fresh sorrow while a stack of cars lined up behind us at red lights. Strangers who's peering concerns masked by blank empathy only amplified the treachery of that 10 mile ride to the hospital in the rain.
This time the news came muddled in subdued excitement. Thin hopes of another baby erasing the heartache wedged deep inside of me telling me to be cautious, careful and quiet until the end. I kept to myself and didn't tell anyone I was expecting until I could not longer hide fact of it around the 5th month when all my dresses went from hinting to boasting of the new life blooming inside of me. I went for frequently check ups - to monitor the progress of my pregnancy now that a late term miscarriage had marked me as "high risk." I had my cervix sewn the first trimester and spent up until the 7th month on moderate bedrest. Terrified I would do something wrong. Days passing slow as molasses while I counted down to a distant due date. Wrecked with worry when I started having regular signs of preterm labor while it was still too early to count on a healthy outcome. I memorized the statistics and counted each new week as one step closer to the finish line. I didn't decorate, or buy anything I knew I needed. I kept a logical outlook unfamiliar to my nature. And kept the secret of the baby's sex written on a printed sonogram in a little white envelope in my top drawer of a desk that we finally opened around the 8th month when finally the reality of another baby had settled in me, and unlocked a new (albeit careful) sense of joy I had been so dutifully withholding all along. I suggested the name "Leon" and Mike was quick to agree. The only name of all their names we ever decided on without quarrel or debate.
He was born with a full head of black hair, already resembling one of Raphael's fleshy cherubs in the paintings I loved as a child. I laid awake the entire night in dim hours after he was born admiring every angle of his sweet features. Glorious reward for all the hours I spent lying on that couch, counting months, then weeks, then days till his arrival. Or driving at mid night to the Labor ward to fend off early contractions. All soon to be forgotten sidenotes once we saw we had another handsome, healthy, 7 lb pound boy born take home with us to love and care for.
Over the next few months though things were quick to change. Like a switch that blinks a room from light to dark, I went from deliriously happy with the addition of another child, to hazy and worn out with a fading joy mingling postpartum blues that unfolded sometime after Mike mentioned one night how Leon (then 3 months old) refused to ever look at him. I remember standing in front of him and realizing it was something I had noticed too but tried to ignore. How hard he worked to avoid eye contact. And how in the pit of my gut something told me something was wrong. I felt disconnected to him in a way I didn't want to face up or admit to. I remember being at lunch with my professor who became close friend to me after graduation, explaining all my growing concerns and she to me that I should pay closer attention to things other than milestones. "I have a feeling he has special gifts you might not understand until later" she told me, which I was quick to dismiss on the spot but words I would be reminded of constantly years later.
In the months thereafter we saw specialist after specialist trying to diagnose reason for his refusal of of eye contact and later because of severely delayed gross motor skills. Each and every one of the milestones came late or never at all. I was worried and cried day and night until concern grew into depression and I stopped feeling capable to love him entirely. Weeks that followed proved our darkest. Mike fed and changed and played with him on the days I couldn't bring myself to get out of bed and he would tell me how sorry I would be someday. For neglecting this time with him when he was still so young, and needing me. In the last days of winter that year it snowed for the first time ever on our street and Mike begged me to come out and see. He and Arlo ran up and down the street watching in disbelief as the neighboring mountaintops turn white while I stayed in a dark bedroom unfazed by such a spoil. I never saw the snow that year.
The dr. appointments, blood work and testings continued up until he was two in which he had been tested for just about every genetic syndrome out there but continued to come up negative for everyone. We sought help from the local regional center and had a therapist at our house every week for two years trying to help him crawl and walk. At one point, during one of his regular exercise refusals, said admitted that she had never worked with a more stubborn child. Seeing him week after week turn down all invitations to get moving. The doctors suggested all kinds of different things to push him to want to move. Take him to the park more they told me, to see all the kids running around which should help motivate him, but all he did was sit happily on a blanket in the shade and waving sweetly at them.When he finally did walk, I was lucky enough to catch the first few shaky steps on my phone video. It happened the week before he turned two and probably one of the happiest days I've known. Where I finally set aside my concerns and decided to enjoy him as he was.
Looking back, I try not to regret too much of those early hardships knowing these kinds of life lessons are the binds that brace us for the tougher times ahead but, but I do sometimes mourn the days that I missed when my vision was fogged by fear and my heart grew too blue to be the mother he needed. Though eight years down the line I couldn't be more proud of how wrong he proved me. An exceptionally cautious boy with the kindest heart who finds pleasure in the simple triumphs that most of us don't notice or applaud. Bright, intuitive, and gifted with a unique charisma that doesn't lean on competition, skill or wit, but general goodheartedness that shows itself in just about everything he does. A kid more comfortable in his own skin than possibly anyone else I've ever known. Possessing quiet lessons meant for the ones who care to listen. Ferdinand in the flower field watching the bees buzz while the others scatter out seeking sport and victory.
Eight years later Leon is still doing things Leon's way. Only now I embrace that pace. An orderly desk at school at Open House, a book by his bed at the end of every night, a friend he made from England with an invitation for Tea in his notes that come home on a Friday. A boy with a brand new bike he begged for but doesn't care to actually ride yet because he simply likes the way his red shiny helmet looks handing from the handle bar, and the ding his metal bell makes when he comes in to give it a little flick. He say's he'll ride it once he's practiced more. And if there's one thing we can be sure in the eight years that we've known him, it's that he'll do it when he's ready.