Six months of gut-wrenching middle-of-the-night blogging, propelled like my soul was drowning and on a mission for signs of survival. Fervently wishing that one single post could sum up what I’ve experienced in this magnificent, heartbreaking life I’ve lived. Fueled by cheap carbohydrates and caffeine with knots in my stomach.
Pardon the sleaze, but writing a blog post, for me, has been like dangling on the precipice of an orgasm: the tender caress that lights the flame; the sweet smell of your soft skin, the touch, the taste; the pulsing desire to make-each-word-count; struggling (floundering sometimes) for metaphors that will unite us in mutual bliss; seeing the pinnacle ahead and not knowing what’s on the other side; helplessly surrendering to what I’ve created; pressing the “Publish to Dog Dharma’s Blog” button with a sigh.
Oftentimes, I’ve pushed myself away from my computer desk, disappointed. I shuffle downstairs, gather my pups around me, pull a fuzzy blanket around my ears and hide with my distractions. I wait for sleep that doesn’t come, and when it comes, I awaken to nightmares, sweaty and frightened, a rejected caricature in a Twilight Zone script. No one will understand me, and a life can’t be encapsulated in a single blog post.
Now I reach out to caress you again, to trust and to offer up a part of me I seldom share, to make love to you with my words so that our hearts can heal.
I never wanted grandiose things. I wanted the ordinary stuff — to be safe, to be loved, to be accepted, to be understood, to belong to someone somewhere, to have a family. A simple life — to be born, to live well, to be a good and responsible person, and at the end of it all, close my eyes knowing I’d done my best.
Last night, I posted about “pivotal moments.” Before that, I posted about “who’s beating my heart?” I have had many pivotal moments — those I chose and grasped and worked hard to achieve, and those that came to me unbidden. My first pivotal moment came when my dad died when I was 5 years old. I reference his death again and again because his goodness was a force that forever shaped my life.
Now I will write about my son. MY son. For those who have been following my story, your jaw has dropped. Yes, this little blind girl who thought she was a lesbian and later transitioned from female to male has a son. Not a biological son, but a son nevertheless. A real son.
How to freeze-frame a heartache in a handful of listless words?
When I was with my second partner, Donna, we decided together to have a baby. Not quite yet fully comprehending that I was transgendered, but in some way “knowing,” pregnancy was out of the question for me. I also didn’t want a child to inherit the eye condition I’d inherited from my father. So it was a foregone conclusion that Donna would bear the infant.
We researched artificial donor insemination, and found a gynecologist who would help a lesbian couple. Donna roughly had the same complexion and eye and hair color as my mother, so we selected a short Italian donor with black hair, thinking our baby might then resemble me.
Donna carefully monitored her body temperature under my hopeful gaze. When her temperature finally shifted to the point that indicated ovulation, off to the gynecologist we went. Our budget slim, we went to McDonald’s to celebrate what we longed would come true.
Well, it was meant to be. A few weeks later, and her pregnancy was confirmed — success on the very first try!! We found a group of other lesbian couples having babies or with children in the Pittsburgh area, and we were the only ones who had had such luck. Some had tried many times to get pregnant, and it’s an expensive process. One couple had had to twice go the route of in vitro fertilization before they became pregnant.
I hovered over Donna, insisting that she eat broccoli and drink prune juice to get plenty of vitamins. I took photographs of her tummy as it grew bigger. We bought baby clothes, baby toys, baby books, and all the paraphernalia.
The ultrasound showed we were having a son. Donna and i bandied about the name we would choose. We each picked out our favorites, and narrowed down the list. Finally, we decided on Caleb Angelo [Donna’s surname] Carraro. “Caleb” was the first name we agreed upon after whittling down the list of favorites. “Angelo” was my dad’s name and given to him in my dad’s honor. Donna’s surname was used as a middle name. And Carraro was my surname before I transitioned.
As Donna’s tummy grew larger month by month, I could feel the baby move. I was astonished to see the shape of his shin bulging through her belly. I played music for the baby and read stories aloud. All the things excited expectant parents do….
Now this all happened in the early 1990’s, when most states didn’t allow gay couples to adopt, many gynecologists refused to do artificial insemination for lesbian couples, no state allowed a same-sex partner to adopt a non-biological child, and so on. The prehistoric days, still prehistoric in some places. So Caleb would be my son, but I would have no parental rights. This was one reason we chose to give Caleb my surname.
While Donna was pregnant, we sought out an attorney. We were able to have drawn up a document making me Caleb’s legal guardian. This meant I could do things like take Caleb to the doctor and make healthcare decisions. But the document only protected me at Donna’s behest; she could revoke it at any time.
Donna wanted a natural childbirth, and so we found a midwife and attended Lamaze classes, the only lesbian couple to participate.. I took a course in infant and toddler CPR at the local Red Cross and got certified.
On an evening in early December, Donna had a twinge of pain. We thought she might be going into labor, and so we called the midwife. As we might have guessed, she told us to wait for the contractions to come and to time them, and to call her and come to the free-standing birthing center when the contractions were close enough together.
I sat with Donna through the night as her contractions became more intense and more frequent. By morning, they weren’t close enough together for us to call the midwife again, so Donna decided to go to work, against my advice. She wasn’t long at work before I received a telephone call telling me she thought it was time. Donna came home, and we gathered up everything we’d packed and headed to the birthing center. Neither of us had slept a wink.
The birthing center was set up to be comfortable and look homey. We had our own room. Caleb was turned so that his spine was against Donna’s back and she was in agony. There was a jacuzzi and Donna sat in the tub while I rubbed her back. I rubbed her back all day, until I felt like my arm was going to fall off!!
After some 18 hours of labor, by mid-afternoon, it was time. Donna had bravely declined all medication. Never have I felt such a sense of electric anticipation and glee. With Donna’s legs spread apart, the midwife announced, “He’s crowning!” We could see the little top of his head, and then the midwife and her assistant said in unison, “He’s got red hair!”
Nearly before I could blink, Caleb popped out and entered this crazy world. I thought I would burst with joy! This was one of the most precious moments of my life. Watching a baby being born, your baby, is pure magic like none other, a religious experience of the ultimate kind.
With Caleb screaming to high heaven, the midwife handed me the scissors to cut his umbilical cord.
The midwife scooped up Caleb, suctioned his mouth and nose,wrapped a blanket around him, and placed a hat on his head. She put him in Donna’s arms and I snapped the first photograph. My son!!! You can see the relief on Donna’s face.
Donna only got to hold Caleb a brief moment, then he was swept away to be weighed and tested for his APGAR score — a perfect, healthy boy. I trotted behind the assistant as she placed Caleb on the scales. The midwife was busy repairing the episiotomy. When the assistant was done, I finally got to hold my son!!!
I cradled him in my arms, and I swear on my life, this earth stopped spinning. Time screeched to a halt. This tiny bundle of hope and love and purity…. Caleb gazed up at me with fresh, newborn eyes.
Funny moment when Donna and I were getting acquainted with our son. The midwife was still fussing around, and she had a big square metal pan. The pan contained the afterbirth of the uterus, and the midwife insisted on giving a Biology 101 lecture on how the afterbirth cocoons and nourishes the baby. Donna and I rolled our eyes!
By 9:00pm, we were home, exhausted, but wide awake. The meconium came at dawn, and I was the one to change the first diaper. We were a family!!!
A few pictures of Caleb:
Sadly, life is not a fairy tale, and things don’t always go right. Even the best relationships have their trials, and mine with Donna certainly had quite a few. I won’t rehash them now — they are etched in my heart.
The short version is this: Donna and I reached a mutual decision to break up when Caleb was two years old. We tried to live together as roommates for a short while, but it became obvious that arrangement was untenable. Having no other choice, I moved from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, and took Caleb with me with Donna’s blessing. But that turned out to be a curve ball, because I ended up with a diagnosed narcissist — see my post about Lilith. No environment for a toddler. This was all too raw to include when I wrote that post… The little piece of me too heartbreaking to share.
Caleb went back to Pittsburgh with Donna. I made trips back to Pittsburgh to spend time with Caleb, and Donna brought him to DC to spend time with me once I had escaped “Lilith.” But by the time Caleb was 4 years old, Donna “went off the rails.” Without telling me till later, she was hospitalized for a month and detoxed and nearly lost custody of Caleb. In her meltdown, she cut me off completely, and I had no parental rights. The last time I saw him, she’d already been filling his head with wrong impressions, and he said to me, “You’re not my mommie.”
Many years later, I got back in touch with Donna, and she answered, but still didn’t want / allow contact. Donna sent me a photograph, and this is what Caleb looked like when he was in high school:
All I can say is this:
Caleb, son, you don’t know the whole truth and the hard decisions that had to be made. I kept a baby book for you and recorded your first steps and your first words. When I had to leave you behind, it was not by choice. I wrote a letter to you and stashed it in the desk drawer. I don’t know if it was ever shown to you, but I doubt it. I told you how much I loved you. I have always loved you. For years, you came to me in dreams, clinging to me and smelling of little-boy sweat. In those dreams, I rocked and cradled you and held you tight. I feel like I failed you, and I’m sorry for that. You’re not my biological son, but you are my heart-son. If you find this blog some day, I hope you understand how much you are loved. Don’t be ashamed of your middle name. You were named after my father, and he was the gentlest, kindest soul I’ve ever known. I wanted to give to you what he gave to me in the few short years I had with him. Life sends us curve balls, and we step up to bat. Do the best you can, and know that you are surrounded by love you’re unaware of. Be strong, do your best, try to do the right thing when you can. I am here waiting if you ever need me.
As in everything that comes together and comes apart, I was somehow moved to finally have the courage to share this piece of my journey today, and tomorrow is Caleb’s birthday. I didn’t even realize today’s date till just now…
It’s all about love and belonging and family ties, even when we muddle about. Deep it goes, deep it flows.
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