Peter Brant West – March 6, 2001.

Tonight I’m lying alone in my bed, much as I was 16 years ago, with a minor ache or soreness around the right side of my rib cage. Then, it was his feet or his back, maybe. I don’t actually know. Some part of his tiny self always lodged under the right side of my ribs.

I constantly had to stretch and arch back while using my hands to massage and nudge him down and over to a different spot. He would flip-flop and roll around and I would see belly waves of protest as he repositioned discovering yet another pokey tiny baby part to jam under my right ribs. I’ll never know why that was his spot. 

Sixteen years ago tonight was pure raw pain and panic. Memories morph between foggy shapes and colors, voices coming and going. There are deafening mechanical beeps and whirs from all the machines attached to me. Nurses in the hallway shout and cackle to one another, oblivious, yet somehow still unable to drown out the loudest, most unnerving of the sounds. The absence of a sound. The vacancy where I should have heard the swift swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of a thriving neonatal heartbeat. 

I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but in my memory the morphine drip has a distinct odor. It smells like chemical death as I lay there pressing the button again and again and again praying for the IV cocktail to release me from the horror of my present reality. 

It didn’t.

But even through my drug and grief induced stupor, sometimes the vividness of a moment rises through the haze. I can close my eyes and I’m back in that cavernous hospital room. The blood pressure cuff is rhythmically crushing my right arm to the point that my fingers purple and bulge. Somewhere nearby there’s a new-for-the-occasion, terry cloth, powder blue robe that still hangs lifeless on the back of my bedroom door all these years later. Artificially induced labor contracts my body all night long preventing sleep–despite the gallons of morphine I must have absorbed. It’s not enough to soothe the screaming chasm of a broken heart. 

No drug would ever be enough for that. 

Tonight’s minor ache is a deliberate pain invoked as an outward, visible commemoration of that indelible internal scar. Tonight’s pain is nothing by comparison, yet it’s a poignant and bittersweet reminder. It’s a necessary connection. 

Pain is interesting. Usually we want to dull the pain. Or hide it. Or forget it. Tonight I’m grateful for pain. I’m grateful for pain that connects and reminds and softens. The discomfort of his tiny body ramming into the same spot of my ribs all day every day for nine months is now one of my most cherished, and painful, memories. 

Thus, I have honored him with an outward symbol of the major memory that unites us. 


We are encircled by snowdrop flowers that bloom every year around his birthday. 

A Month

A month into the new job. It’s good. People are all nice and helpful and pleasant to work with. 

It can be tedious and repetitive, but it’s a paycheck and fullfilling my current needs, so I’ll take it.

Forty hours a week, plus parenting two teenagers and a pre-teen (one of which is having serious medical/neurological needs at the moment and missing tons of school), plus 16 hours a week at the part-time job, plus trying to complete all the course work from last semester, plus, plus, plus…it’s exhausting. 

I have little expectation of actually completely the course work from last semester under the present conditions, so that’s $9k I just added to my student loans with nothing to show for it. I think it’s time to put that dream of an English/Writing degree and becoming an editor to bed for good. I’ve been wasting too much energy on what could be or what might be or what I’m hoping for instead of directing my energy and focus on what is. 

It’s time to be present in right now and put away all the distracting and wasteful wishes. 

Words of Affirmation

This past fall I read The 5 Love Languages: The Military Edition. I typically don’t buy into relationship books like that because I’m a bit of a cynic and sometimes a snob. I work in a bookstore and often stock the shelves with the various editions of The 5 Love Languages franchise, and I’m always equally as intrigued by their claims to restore and save marriages as I am skeptical of those claims considering how broadly and generally those claims sweep. “Reading this one book will change your whole life,” and “Contained within these pages is the secret to relationship longevity.” These are the kind of statements that make me smirk, roll my eyes, and stuff the book back on the shelf.

I take issue with the idea that one book, one person’s words, contains all the truth I need to get through life and relationships successfully. I think it’s an arrogant assertion to suggest that in all the time of human history, this one man holds the secret to relationship success and happiness.

The fact that these are shelved in the Christian Living section didn’t make it any easier for me to spend the cash on it. (Not because I have a general distaste for Christian books; but rather because of my very specific history with Christianity.) Of course, I’m someone who believes in accepting truth wherever I might find it, even if it did manage to blunder its way through a religious patriarch.

But I’d been intrigued by this particular edition, the military edition, for so long–every time I’d shelve in that section, I’d pick it up and flip through and read a few lines–that I started reading it on my break one day. Without even realizing what I was doing, I started underlining parts that resonated with me and writing notes in the margins. Couldn’t very well put it back on the shelf after that, so it came home with me.

I have plenty of criticisms of the book–The 5 Love Languages in general, not just the military edition. There’s too much god-ness for me. It’s stiflingly heteronormative and traditional in approach to gender roles, and doesn’t use or seem to know language that encompasses a variety of long-term, committed relationships, not just Christian marriages between a man and a woman. That being said, if you’re willing to mentally edit the overly-religious parts and to interchange pronouns to suit your circumstances, it’s truly an insightful and useful little book.

There’s plenty of truth and sound advice and experiential wisdom in there. I learned that my love language is not what I thought it was; or maybe it’s more accurate to say, I learned that my love language is more than I thought it was. I’ve always known, even before the phrase “love language” existed, that I feel loved and secure and confident in a relationship–no matter what kind it is–through acts, demonstrations, cooperation in tasks/chores, teamwork. Doing. Being on the receiving end of Doing is what has always felt like love to me. The 5 Love Languages calls it Acts of Service.

As it turns out, while that’s still true, what’s more true is that even when someone is doing and is a person of action in the relationship, I can still feel a lack. A distance, an insecurity in whether or not they truly love me. I realized through reading this book that a possible reason I could feel that lack or insecurity is because my love needs were in fact not being fully met. Yes, acts of service are absolutely vital for me to be a partner in sustaining a healthy, loving relationship; but also, I need words. Words of Affirmation according to The 5 Love Languages. My Words of Affirmation score was even higher than my Acts of Service score. I found this fascinating because I’m a firm, lifelong believer in walking the walk. Anybody can say the right words, but those words need to be backed up by action. That’s always been my philosophy, and still is. But it’s also my philosophy that solid actions need to be supported and enhanced by the right words.