Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It's Powerful

Whenever I smell Oil of Olay and CoverGirl Pressed Powder, I think of my Grandma Evans.  She swore by Oil of Olay to keep her looking young, and she was always powdering her nose with the CoverGirl Pressed Powder.  And when I was growing up, I was lucky enough to always have her around.  At the time, though, I didn't always feel so lucky.

Grandma Evans and I both were similar in the temper department, and appeared to be each other's triggers.  So there was a lot of fighting with her when I was younger, and especially when I was a teenager.  But still, she was always in my corner when it mattered, and even though I remember a lot of the fighting, looking back now, I remember that she was so much fun, and was one of the most generous, least pretentious people I'll ever know.

My sister and I, whenever we get together, always get laughing about something Grandma Evans would say or do that burnt us up at the time.  For instance, when we were little and in cranky moods, Grandma Evans would ask us "Did you have a bowel movement today?  Was your poopy soft?"  That question would irritate Colleen and me every time, and if Grandma and I were in the wrong mood, it'd set off a fight of atomic proportions.  But now as adults, I think it's safe to say that I, at least have come to appreciate the connection between a happy colon and a good mood.  And if my sister and I have been around each other too much at the wrong time these days, and get pissy with each other, one of us will ask the other "Was your poopy soft?" and then we get giggling like a couple of idiots. 

Gross?  Yes.  But we all know it's true.  It is what it is.  If you're still annoyed with me for relating that story, go eat a bran muffin and some prune juice and come back in a little while when you're in a better mood.

As irritating as I could find my Grandma Evans sometimes, she really was good-hearted, and she could have a soothing effect.  When I'd be home sick from school with some stomach ailment (my mom called it 'nervous stomach;' Dr. Davis called it 'ulcer'), Grandma Evans would always make me food that wouldn't upset my stomach.  I wouldn't want to eat, but she'd always insist that it'd make me feel better, and most of the time, it did. 

And then in the winter time, when a lot of Grandmas would be content to watch the grandkids ride downhill in the snow from the comfort of the warm side of the windows (heck- that sounds like a plan to me, and I'm in my thirties!), Grandma Evans bundled up and would ride downhill with us.  When Colleen and I stayed all night at her house, she'd let us make French fries from scratch, using her potato press, and whenever she would watch us for a Saturday when Mom and Dad went somewhere, we'd go on fun field trips.  I remember going fishing at Beechwood Lake.

She was a person to really make the best of things.  She lived for hard work.  After Thanksgiving dinner, you'd find Grandma Evans out at the kitchen table, picking over the bones, to get every scrap of meat off.  When Mom would decorate cakes, Grandma kept the decorating tips washed up.  At canning time, she'd cut up the green beans.  Pain-in-the-butt little things the rest of us didn't like to do.  She taught me how to make a bed with perfect hospital corners.  [That's something I am a stickler about, to this day.  If the sheets are baggy on a hotel bed, I have that thing ripped apart and made up properly, even if my husband is horrified by this.]  And when she moved to the nursing home in 2000, she had her doctor sign a paper saying that working in the home's laundry room was good for her mental health.  Some people implode when they go to nursing homes, but Grandma Evans made the best of it, socializing with the other residents, making the most of the Activity Room, and working in the laundry until she couldn't anymore, physically.   That ability to make the best of everything is something I work really hard to emulate.

I want you to understand the kind of person Grandma Evans was.  We lost her in 2006 when she was seventy-nine.  It was one of those things where it wasn't so much of a surprise- she'd had a bad stroke in 2002 and had numerous bouts of congestive heart failure, and  she was suffering.  So at least she wasn't suffering anymore.  But it still felt like a kick right to the throat when I found out.  And then you know how it is.  Someone passes away, and you get thinking about your history with them, and if it was kind of a complicated relationship, the things that stand out were all the times you were a complete and total ass, and you know you could have handled things differently.  At least that's how it was for me.

So I tell you all those things so I can get around to this.  In January 2011, I found out I was pregnant.  It wasn't a completely unplanned thing.  My husband and I had been married for 10+ years, I was 31, and we'd stopped trying not to have kids, but things weren't looking promising that we'd have any of our own, at least not without medical intervention.  And then over Christmas and New Year that winter, I felt worse than I ever had in my life, and I was temperamental, even for me.  So eight days into the new year, I took a pregnancy test on a lark, and damned if the stick didn't turn blue.  I had five minutes of sheer joy followed by a good two-week stint in the Bell Jar.  I blame a lot of it on stupid hormones, because they'll do a number on you.  But also, I was freaking out like a lot of people do when they find out they're having a baby.  I mean, we'd been married for ten years and some change.  We had a good routine going.  We could just pick up and go whenever we wanted to, without considering diaper bags, feeding schedules, school... Plus, a lot of the kids I'd met over the years hadn't impressed the hell out of me.  In fact, we were in the company of a particularly bratty one the night before I took the pregnancy test, and I remember when the parents finally took the overtired kid home for the night (at 11:30 pm!), I went upstairs, relishing the silence and that my husband and I weren't the tag-team of mewling, simpering Mommy-martyr and douchebag Dad that had just left our house.  I was really afraid we'd turn into that as instantly as the stick on the pregnancy test turned blue.

I had a week to let all the worries stew in my head before I could get in to my doctor to confirm what we already knew.  I was nervous all week, and when I'm that kind of nervous, all food tastes like styrofoam and mudwater to me, so I wasn't eating.  And you know how when you don't eat, you get nauseous and moody anyway, and then you add pregnancy hormones to that, and I kept worrying that my New Year's Eve martinis I drank before I knew I was pregnant would mean that I'd be carrying some kind of devil-spawn with horns and a tail.  Even though everybody at my doctor's office denies it, I'm pretty sure my dead-pan reaction to the "wonderful news" took the nurse aback majorly that day.  I think I even humped up and bawled, right there in the exam room.  As far as I was concerned at that moment, my life was pretty much over.

I got over it, of course.  The following weekend, my husband and I took a trip to the mall to look at baby stuff.  At least I stayed in character, having a shopping trip pull me out of my funk.  And my sister sent me a "Congratulations!  You're pregnant!" card in the mail, and it made me happy.  A couple weekends after that, we met up in Pittsburgh with her and her husband, and our cousin, who turned out to be expecting her second child right then, too, and my sister, who has a lot of friends who've had kids, took me maternity shopping, and my spirits were brightened up after I'd come to the realization that I wasn't going to have to look like a walking tent for the rest of my life.  Again, the shopping trip picked me up out of my funk.

And then things got really gnarly.  I came home from Pittsburgh with a terrible cold, and then on Valentine's Day, I went for my first semester prenatal screening and had the test done that screens for genetic abnormalities.  (And I'm not opening up the floor for debate on prenatal genetic testing.  I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  If your opinion differs, excellent.  Don't try to bludgeon me with your argument, I won't bludgeon you with mine, and we'll agree to disagree.)  Of course, I'd studied up on the Nuchal Fold Test, so I knew the thickness the ultrasonographer was looking for, and my baby's nuchal fold was a whole millimeter thicker than it should have been at that gestational age.  And she tried to reassure me that the nuchal fold was only one component of the screening, and they still had to send the ultrasound measurements and my bloodwork to the lab, and "every baby's different, and this doesn't mean there's an abnormality," but in my head, I already had the baby in my head as severe Down Syndrome, and what would we do out here in the middle of the country where there are very few support services, etc., etc.  Two weeks later, my fears were confirmed:  the screening results came back with a 1 in 78 chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome, and I had a meltdown in my doctor's office. I've never done that in my life, and I'm still embarrassed about it. 

My doctor is really amazing, and as I was blubbering and leaking snot all over the place, she and my husband (both in scrubs, I might add), were trying to explain to me that the test was a screening, and that 1 in 78 was a CHANCE, not a confirmation that the baby had any abnormality, and that there were people who'd take 1 in 78 as GREAT odds and be done with it.  BUT, the normal was 1 in 350 for my age, and I couldn't get past it.  So we started talking about amniocentesis, and going to Children's Hospital of Buffalo for the amnio, and the risks associated with all that, the risks of finding out for sure.  And I elected to do the amnio.  I wanted to know for sure.  My husband said we'd love the baby no matter what, but I needed to know everything I could, because I wasn't sold on loving the baby "no matter what."  (Again, this isn't an opening for debate.  This is how I felt.  If you think I'm a shit for admitting that, so be it.  Mrs. Hanky, right here.)

We had to wait until March 15th for the amnio (what better day of the year to let someone jab you in the abdomen with a sharp object than the Ides of March?), to reduce the risks to the baby, so I had a good couple of weeks to let my worrying spool way out of control.  I read everything I could get my hands on about amniocentesis, risks, mortality rates, chromosomal abnormalities.  My husband, a dentist, went so far as to take all his developmental biology books and hide them at his office, so I wouldn't read them and make myself even sicker with worry.  And he thought about blocking WebMD from coming through to my computer. 

In short, I went to a really, really dark place for a little while between the results from my prenatal screening and when I went to Buffalo for the amnio.  But somewhere in those couple weeks, when I had myself whipped into a frenzy before my husband got home from work over all the what-ifs, I was sitting on the couch in our family room, bawling, soaking Rozzie's coat with tears and snot while she bemusedly sat curled up against me, something happened, which is where the sense of smell, and Grandma Evans comes back into all of this.

I was sitting there on the couch, and all of a sudden, I caught a strong whiff of Oil of Olay and CoverGirl pressed powder.  I don't wear Oil of Olay or CoverGirl pressed powder, and as far as I know, Yankee doesn't make a candle with those scents.  There was no reason to smell those particular smells right then. But I know I did.  And then a thought came into my head that said "Stop your crying.  You know everything is going to be all right."  And I felt really calm, the best I'd felt in weeks.  The best I'd felt since five minutes after that stick turned blue, actually. 

I couldn't stop thinking about Grandma Evans after that.

I don't know what it was all about.  Maybe I thought I smelled the Oil of Olay and CoverGirl pressed powder because I really wanted someone to be there to calm me down right then, or maybe it was the remnants of the bad cold and flu I'd had a few weeks earlier.  Or maybe it was Grandma Evans reaching through The Veil to snap me out of it all.  I don't know.  I do know that I felt alone in a dark place before that moment, and afterward, I didn't feel alone or scared or in a dark place.  And I'm going to thank Grandma Evans for that.

Everything did turn out better than fine with the baby.  Even at the amnio, the ultrasonographer at CHoB said she didn't see anything abnormal about the (girl!!!!) baby.  The amnio itself went off without a hitch, and at the end of March, it was confirmed that the genetic tests all came back normal.  But long before that, I'd stopped worrying.... about that, anyway.

Ever since Zoe was born, Colleen and I have both noticed little flashes of Grandma Evans in her.  Her hands remind us both of Grandma Evans.  She's unsinkable like Grandma Evans was. She loves to eat.  I have this picture of Zoe holding a squirt-bottle of mayonnaise, and when Colleen saw it, she said "Zoe reminds me of Grandma Evans in this picture!" 

It's her expression, I think.  But Grandma Evans always liked mayo.  We're not saying Zoe IS Grandma Evans.  Not in a million years.  But we can definitely see that they're related.  Different things come down through generations and across time.

And if, if, if Grandma Evans was manifesting herself somehow that day when I'd spiraled about as low as I could, I'm really glad she chose the scents of Oil of Olay and CoverGirl Pressed Powder, and not Ring Bologna and Limburger Cheese.  I'm really glad about that...


  1. {{{hugs}}} Amazing story April! I truly believe your grandmother was there for you when you needed the support. I also suspect there is a part of her in Zoe too. :)