I remember the day I found out I was pregnant with Mason. It feels like it was just yesterday – and I know that I’ll probably still be saying that twenty years from now. I was home alone, it was late afternoon. I’d just been to urgent care the previous night because I wasn’t feeling well and was prescribed some pretty hefty antibiotics. They’d tested for pregnancy and the result was negative. On this afternoon, though, after I’d already taken three of the fourteen pills dispensed to me, something prompted me to take a home pregnancy test – just in case. I remember opening the bathroom cabinet to grab something else, and there was the First Response logo glaring at me.
I thought to myself, “There’s no way I could be pregnant already. We just started trying. Plus they just tested me yesterday. I’m being ridiculous.”
I watched that second, very faint and barely visible pink line appear on the result window of the test stick. My jaw dropped. Just to be extra certain, I stopped at Walgreens on the way to my parents’ house. They were waiting for me to join them for dinner, as I often did while Ralf was working. I purchased one of those digital tests – the kind that clearly say “pregnant” or “not pregnant” – because I was in a bit of denial. I remember quickly hugging my mom and rushing past her to get to the bathroom. Sure enough, there was the word I was praying I’d see.
I had to sit through that dinner with my parents, wanting to explode with happiness but having to keep it under wraps. It took every last drop of willpower not to call or text Ralf and spill the beans – I am THE worst when it comes to keeping these kinds of secrets. When he arrived home from teaching late that night, I greeted him at the front door with both tests in hand. I remember how the expression on his face revealed the same shock and disbelief, yet utter joy, that I was feeling. Then, in true Ralf fashion, he pulled out a calendar and started calculating timelines and crunching numbers.
Ralf went into full-force study mode very early on in my pregnancy to prepare for his upcoming promotional exam to become lieutenant. I often felt lonely through the whole experience because he wasn’t able to participate much. If he wasn’t working, he was hitting the books until the wee hours of the morning. I had to go to many of my appointments alone, created the baby registry by myself, went to test out strollers and look at car seats without him. It was really hard, and if I’m to be honest, our relationship was disconnected and strained at times. But we both kept telling ourselves that it was temporary, and I knew his goal was to move up the ranks in his career to better provide for our soon-to-be little family.
I’ll never forget a conversation we had one night in the hospital. Our family had just left after a very difficult discussion with the neurosurgeon – the moment I think we all realized the severity of what was happening. It was the only time Ralf revealed how scared he was, when he finally broke down. Up until then, I kept asking him to let me be there for him, telling him that I didn’t need him to be strong for me. I told him that I wasn’t going anywhere, that we’d figure it out no matter how bad things got, that I would make sure he could be an active participant in Mason’s life regardless of how handicapped he might become.
With tears streaming down his face, rubbing my belly in such a way that it almost seemed like he knew it would be the last time, he looked at me and said, “I don’t want to be stuck in a wheel chair. I want to be there. I want to hold him.” Two days later, Ralf was on life support.
Some might call it naivete, but I really believe that Ralf was finding ways to be present in the decision making even when he had only machines keeping him alive. On the morning that I had to tell his family that Ralf had been off sedation for over twelve hours and wasn’t waking up on his own, I also told them that I planned to change the baby’s name. I wanted to name him after his father. Later that same day, as I sat next to Ralf’s hospital bed, I happened to look up at his IV bag and saw the name of the brand.
I heard Ralf’s message loud and clear. He wanted me to stick to the name we had chosen together. So I compromised and only changed his middle name.
Since Mason was born, I keep discovering all kinds of little “coincidences” that I know in my heart are not actually arbitrary at all. Most recently, Ralf spoke to me in a huge way. I’ve been unhappy with the situation at Mason’s current daycare for some time, and have been looking into other options. I went to tour a private school that my good friend recommended, and instantly loved it when I walked through the doors. It had the right vibe – reminded me a lot of my own upbringing. I immediately fell in love with the school and registered Mason for both the summer camp and the upcoming school year. When I excitedly shared the news with Ralf’s parents, his dad informed me that Ralf attended a school by the very same name in Miami for prekindergarten. I had no idea. I realized that Ralf had chosen this school for Mason even before I stepped foot in the building.
There’s another memory that I seem to revisit repeatedly. One day during Ralf’s hospitalization, I was told I couldn’t be in the same room with him for twenty-four hours. He received some testing that exposed him to radiation, and since I was pregnant, they wanted to be certain the baby would not be affected in the least. Although I understood and appreciated the concern, I was heartbroken and frustrated. I hated that I could’t be right next to him every step of the way. I expressed this to Ralf over text and his response will stay with me until my dying day.
“You are here. You’re always with me.”
Except, he is the one that is always with me.