On my son Justin’s 21st birthday

Twenty-one years ago today, my youngest son, Justin Alexander was born. It wasn’t an easy pregnancy. Miscarriage threatened when I was about 5 months pregnant along with pneumonia, for which I was confided to hospital for several days. When I was released, my doctor ordered bed rest and prohibited me from work and stress. Thankfully, my boss at the time let me do my work from home–he sent a computer and desk for me to work on and I would visit the office once a week to check on things. Following two previous classical Caesarian sections, my doctor had no choice but to operate along the previous scar to prevent further weakening of my uterus.

When Justin was finally separated from my womb, I sensed something was wrong. I heard something about his being bluish and not wanting to breathe. As after my first two babies were born, I was deeply depressed, although I never told anyone about it and never saw a mental health professional. It was only when I was living on my own for the first time after three babies and two failed marriages that I had experienced severe post-partum depression after each pregnancy. It was no better after Justin was born. He was immediately confined to the neonatal ICU within an incubator so the only way anyone could touch him was through those holes in the sides of the plexiglass panels. I don’t even remember the nurses bringing him to my room to hold or nurse after he was born. The neonatologist also determined he had high bilirubin levels, causing his skin to yellow, so he was put under a light to counter that. I was unable to get out of bed for a couple of days and only started to walk on the second day and when I finally could go to visit him, I could only watch him lying in the incubator, a skinny dark bluish yellowish waif under 6 lbs. I was discharged after the fifth day and refused to leave home, not wanting to be jolted around by a drive to the hospital just 10 minutes away. The next time I saw him, it was Christmas–that was the first time I got to really hold him in my arms for a short while. I couldn’t tell if I was happy to hold him or depressed that he was at risk. Needless to say, I couldn’t hold him long enough because I was choking back tears the whole time and he couldn’t stay out of the incubator too long, either. That was how I spent the Christmas of 95–in the hospital, watching Justin through the glass, getting to hold him a few minutes at a time, until I was just too tired and too choked up. I couldn’t get myself to visit him again. His neonatologist was a little worried as well because he didn’t seem to want to breathe on his own and needed help. She said if he didn’t breathe on day 10, they would have to intubate him. I was terrified. I could not imagine his tiny body being invaded by a tube. I could only think of my daughter when she was an infant and had to be intubated. I was more distressed than she was, I think. Ten days after Justin was born, the specialist gave him something–sodium bicarb, I think–to see if it would help him breathe, otherwise, they would need to intubate, which could cost us about 1K a day–an amount I couldn’t fathom or imagine I would ever be able to pay. Thankfully, Justin responded and by some miracle–possibly the fear of being intubated as well–decided to breathe on his own. They removed him from the incubator after a day and, two days later, he was cleared to go home in time for New Year’s Eve. He slept through all the fireworks.

Today, he is 21 and officially a man. This Christmas, I will not be able to visit him or hold him in my arms, not even for the briefest moment because eight Christmases ago, he was wrenched away from me and there was no way I could get him back.

We have not spoken since 2009 and not because it was my choice. I tried to reach out to him several times but he has avoided me. The most painful moments now are when I see him–walking, on the bus, performing–and each time, my heart sinks to the pit of my belly reminding me how empty I feel inside for the bottomless hole left inside me. The only way I get through is by trying not to think about him, how he is, how he does in university–I hear many good things about him. I wonder what he tells his girlfriend when she asks about his mom. Does she believe him? Does she even question him? I wonder what lies his father has added to the venom he fed him since I had to return to work when Justin was six until I was dragged away from my home and him just after his 13th Christmas. I try not to spend time wondering when he will realize how manipulative his father is or how he fits the bill of psychopath perfectly. I try not to hope he will one day understand what happened and realize I could no longer live in a marriage that had died a lingering death and should have been buried 10 years before it was officially ended.

How long does post-partum depression last? Or maybe, it’s still an extension of childhood depression. All my life, I must have been reacting to the depression. Granted, it has made me more creative, so should I be thankful for it? Should I blame depression for my choices? I know I chose to have Justin–I wanted to have him so much it hurt; maybe I wanted him for all the wrong reasons, because I could not get my other babies back. But I wanted him and loved him and I know I passed on a lot to him. I have been told by people who’ve met him, spoken lengthily with him, and known him, that he is so much more like me than he is or ever will be like his father and, for that, I say a silent prayer of thanks.

Today, Justin, you are a man. I can only pray that you will be your own man. I will always be your mum and I will always love you, no matter what you think; no matter what your father has made you think. I hope you always remember things I’ve taught you: to always respect others for who they are, to always treat them right, to always do your best, to always be open to new things, to think carefully before you speak, not to say anything if you can’t be nice or polite to others, to always look for answers, to always find something to keep you busy, to appreciate people, art, books, culture, to think for yourself. I hope somewhere along the way between the last time you listened to me and now, you have learned to always respect women, treat them well, and always, always remember that all relationships have two sides and both sides must share the responsibility of keeping the relationship healthy, well-balanced, and whole.

Be well, my son. May you find happiness, peace, and success in your adult life. I love you.

4 thoughts on “On my son Justin’s 21st birthday

  1. Hello Cindy. Loved your post – which I found via Bert’s FB like – and hope that writing it down was cathartic for you. We at Innodata had no idea what you were going through at that time and had we known, we would have voiced our support..

    As a mother, I felt your pain and wish you all the best … I truly hope and pray that someday you will be reunited with Justin Alexander.

    • Thank you, Wen. I have never been very good at sharing things that make me very emotional and always found it easier to write–and yes, writing has always been cathartic to me, but what I have written is just a sliver of so much more. It is only after all these years that I am able to distance myself a little and find the words to write. Even my family had no idea of what I went through.

  2. Merry Christmas, Cindy!

    We never think we’ll make the mistakes we did growing up but then, as Neil Gaiman says, “I suppose the point you grow up is the point you let the dreams go.”

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