20 years ago today I was finally being admitted to Enloe Hospital after being in labor for 3 days. Those three sleepless days included a crazy walking tour of downtown Chico, being sent home from the hospital after my water broke and many hours of video game playing by the males involved. Finally, though, I was there and in a pitocin-induced haze of pain and anxiety. I gave in after about 8 hours when Jeff panicked because I was passing out in between contractions and had a walking epidural. The whole experience changed at that point. I relaxed and dilated. My friend Kim joined Jeff and I and together we brought Jasmine Leigh into the world. I became a mother.
There were signs right away that something wasn’t right. She had digestive issues right after birth. She ate voraciously and didn’t gain weight. People didn’t believe us, I think, when I told them how much she ate. It was the beginning of many looks of doubt and accusation from people who had no idea what our lives were like. I learned later to ignore those looks and judgements, but in the first year – when we just thought we were bad parents – it was tough. I’ve often said that if Jasmine had been our second-born we would have known almost immediately something needed attention. She would have been diagnosed much sooner. But she wasn’t second, she was first and this was the beginning of a lot of things she had to teach us. Jasmine caught her first respiratory infection at about 6 months. 7 months later she was finally diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
Before I had Jasmine, I thought parenthood was all about teaching your children well. I blame a childhood of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I had no idea that Jasmine would be the teacher, I the student. And it wasn’t just me. She taught other people things as well, and often I wasn’t even aware of it. She truly was an old soul. When I looked past the youth of her face, when I gazed into her eyes, with their stormy grey intensity, I knew I wasn’t looking at a 3 year old, an 8 year old, a 10 year old facing death. Others who met her shared this same experience with me. In the true sense of the word, it was remarkable.
I have written at length about Jasmine, about losing Jasmine, about loving Jasmine, about who she was to me. I could do it again, with the tears pricking at my eyes and the constriction building in my throat, but that’s not where I want to go today. I want to simply remember and honor the light and shadow that she brought into my life. The lessons she shared and continues to share. I honor that. I still think about her every day. I wonder what she’d think about the places, people and things we encounter. I can only guess because her life was very, very short.
I miss her, but I’m grateful for her dragonfly wings that took her to a place where breathing and running down beaches with arms outstretched are normal and effortless. I honor that she made me the person I am today, rather than it being the other way around. And so it is with Gabrielle and Nina. The connection between me and my children is so incredibly fluid, an exchange rather than a filling of a vessel. We shape each other. And I will be thinking all day that it started 20 years ago with Jasmine. I didn’t know what was in store – do we ever as parents? But I’m grateful for it. And I hope that wherever Jasmine is, she’s happy on this anniversary of her birth into my life. I’m sure it’s all relative – time and lives – but I hope she thinks of me for a minute and that we can connect on that thought.