All four of us were moving into our rental house in Mandeville, LA which was practically around the corner from my mother-in-law’s house. I liked our rental house – it was spacious and had beautiful hardwood floors. I liked being close to family and mostly thrilled to be out of Canada and back to all things American. Once we were back, Scott started looking for a job and he worked in New Orleans for awhile before KBR called up and asked him to go work with the military in Afghanistan. We had only been back for a couple of months and Scott and I prayed over that decision and thought since it wasn’t longterm, that it would be ok for him to accept the job. The pay would be great and would afford us to build the house in Covington in the subdivision where we were looking. And it wasn’t longterm. I kept telling myself that.
In August or September I joined a group called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and attended monthly meetings and dinners and stuff just for moms with little kids; other women who knew the everyday frustrations and joys of being a mother of munchkins. I needed this since I had no friends in the area. Kim lived 40 minutes away and we would see and talk to each other, but I needed friends close by. She would have her first baby, Shelby, and I was there for her birth. I so treasure that we were there for each other in those once-in-a-liftetime moments. She was (maybe for the first time) completely speechless when I told her we were having another baby on a day that I went to visit her and baby Shelby. MOPS was great – it got me involved and was a safe place to talk about things and really a saving grace for me. I met who would become great friends that were in my group. The whole group was probably 40-50 women, but we met in smaller groups within the room. We would have a speaker or an activity each month and a craft. This was right up my alley. You know how you see someone and just know you would become friends? That’s how it was with Megan, Beth, Lisa, Jennifer C., and Mandy. Beth was our group leader. She became like a big sister for me. Megan was my exact opposite (other than being just as crafty as me) – she saw a need and just did whatever it took to get the job done. She would be a lifeline for me. Jennifer and I just clicked over pure silliness and things that would only happen to us. Lisa would open a scrapbook store and we would all spend a lot of time together. Mandy was a friend who was a transplant from Georgia, trying to make a life in Louisiana; we were both in the same boat. All of these women became like family. Especially when Scott went to Afghanistan.
I enrolled Molly in preschool and she loved it. Always the happy kid. Two weeks after Scott landed in the Middle East, I was spotting and Megan and Beth gave me the name of the OB/GYN they both loved. I made an appointment with Dr. B. and Scott’s cousin Kat babysat while I went for what would be a 5 hour appointment. 5 hours. I was pregnant and Dr. B. was the first doctor to properly diagnose my type of infertility. I had an inhospitable uterus. I laughed. Not only could I be a bitch, so was my uterus! He put me on a drug that I can’t remember the name of that would calm my bitch uterus down so the embryo could grow into a baby. I was due sometime around July 15th, 2005. I told my doctor of the problems I had with Katie and the meconium and he rolled his eyes at Canadian medicine. I would be put on light bedrest and the medicine made me woozy. Light bedrest with two toddlers is a joke, but I did my best.
During this time our house was being built. We picked the model that had the best floor plan and space and I picked all the finishings when Scott was out of the country. I started to show almost immediately. I was at my heaviest and the extra weight made an already difficult pregnancy more difficult. It was hard to keep up with the girls. I couldn’t fit in a restaurant booth. That was probably the thing that bothered me the most being that heavy. I started scrapbooking with Megan and Lisa and then Mandy. They kept my spirits up. At the Faler family Christmas party I broke down when Scott’s dad took a photo of everyone to send to Scott. I hadn’t let myself cry over how much I missed him being there everyday. It’s not just the big stuff you miss. For me it wasn’t sleeping alone. It was not having daily conversation. It was not having him there to put the star at the top of the tree. It was him not being there to help me be Santa on Christmas Eve to fill the stockings. It was having to take the trash out myself. It was being the only one to be up with the girls if they were sick in the middle of the night. It was having to ask Scott’s uncle Mike to come over and change a lightbulb I couldn’t reach. It was having to call Scott’s mom to come over and inspect Katie’s mouth when she fell on the fireplace and knocked a front tooth up into her gum. It was doing Molly’s birthday party alone. It was being the only one at home to rock and sing Katie to sleep on a wintry night and singing every Beatles song in the catalog until she fell asleep. It was having to ask Scott’s brother to come over and put our Christmas tree in the garage because I couldn’t carry the box in February because I was too depressed to take the tree down.
My parents came in for Christmas and it was nice. Then it was spring and then it was May and our house was almost ready. Megan and Beth spearheaded the packing of our possessions. My mother-in-law had already come to pack up Molly’s room, but the girls from MOPS came and packed everything in the rental house. They wouldn’t let me do anything. I just sat and gave directions. Megan put my computer in her car and brought it to my new house while my dad was there painting the upstairs bright colors in the kids’ rooms and hanging curtains. A moving company moved the boxes, but it was my MOPS friends and my mom and dad who were there for me. They were amazing. My realtor went to school with Scott and handled our closing perfectly, telling me what I needed to do, step by step. I made curtains for our extremely tall windows that you couldn’t find ready-made curtains for. We moved in when I was eight months pregnant. I could barely fit behind the steering wheel in my minivan.
Scott had come in once from Afghanistan. We decided to get a nanny to help out once our baby boy came. I interviewed nannies. We settled on one and she seemed just perfect. She would cancel on me two weeks before Andrew was born. I went into a dark place. I couldn’t talk about it. My parents and grandfather came down for Katie’s birthday and Dr. B. was inducing me on the 11th. We had a Cookie Monster birthday for Katie and went to Trey Yuen’s for Chinese for my birthday on the 9th. On the 10th I packed a bag for the hospital and my dad brought me to the hospital at 3 am, per Dr. B’s instructions. He stayed for awhile, then my mother-in-law came to relieve him. Dr. B. was sure I’d be ready to deliver sometime after she got off work, so she went to work that morning and my parents came up to the hospital. I can’t remember who kept the girls. It’s one of the few things I can’t remember.
The anesthesiologist gave me my epidural around nine and I was ready for a day of contractions and visitors coming in and out. At ten I was feeling a ton of pressure and asked my nurse to check me. She insisted I wasn’t ready yet, but I asked her to check anyway. She checked. Her face went from pleasant to distressed in seconds. She told another nurse to get Dr. B. “NOW.” My mother stood up and came to stand at the head of the bed and hold my hand. I was calm. Remember, I had seen every episode of A Baby Story on TLC and read What to Expect When You’re Expecting 42 times. Dr. B. got there within minutes. His office was 5 minutes away, but I know he made it faster than that. He examined me and told the nurse to keep her hand in place. I knew that couldn’t be good. He was incredibly calm and said “we’re going to take you back, the cord is wrapped around his neck.” He told one of the nurses to lower the head of my bed – it was so low I thought I would slide off the bed. Nurse #1 sat on the bed “with her hand in place” and other nurses worked quickly around me, taking off my earrings and watch (because I don’t have babies without accessories). I stupidly said “so it’s going to be a c-section?” and the nurses all said yes, it was an emergency. Dr. B. was already out the door. A nurse told me I was super calm throughout this process. I told her watched a lot of hospital shows on TV – this seemed very important at the time, as if I had some sort of minor medical degree from TLC and “ER.” I was wheeled quickly down the hallway, nurse still on top of my bed. I remember other nurses and patients looking at me, it was completely surreal. A nurse said I was the calmest patient they had ever had after being told they were having an emergency c-section.
Once in the operation room, my favorite guy, the anesthesiologist showed back up and started deadening me with a local and kept asking “do you feel that? how ’bout now? what about now?” My arms were put out to sides like wings and I was hooked up to more stuff. I could hear Dr. B. talking in a hushed voice. I cannot express how calm he was at all times, but he was in complete quiet control. Nurses were rushing, the anesthesiologist sat on a stool by my head and talked to me the entire time. He was fanfreakingtastic. We talked like there was no emergency – we talked like we were both waiting while getting our oil changed or sitting at the DMV, how you make temporary friends with whoever may be sitting next to you. It was so rushed there wasn’t time for my mom to be in the room. She called Scott’s mom who dropped everything and got to the hospital.
Dr. B. told me what was going on the entire time. The umbilical cord was wrapped twice around Andrew’s neck and once around his arm. Once I heard that, the tears started flowing even though I was assured by everyone in the room he would be fine. Everything would be fine. But everything wasn’t fine. My husband was halfway around the world and I was by myself being cut open in an emergency that could have ended horribly. My mind always went to the worst. What could have happened. But Andrew was fine. He was taken to the nursery and I was brought to the recovery room, where my mom met me. I was freezing and couldn’t stop shaking. Nurses brought me warming blankets. Eventually I was ok. Everything would be ok. But it wasn’t.
I was brought back to my room. Family and friends would come in and out. Flowers were delivered. Nurses came in to help me get up after the epidural wore off. I was in so much pain, more pain than I had ever been in. At some point after family had left, a nurse said she would stay in my room while I showered just in case I needed her. Me? Need anyone? I never needed anyone. I could do it all myself. I had managed my whole pregnancy practically by myself. I could do it. I couldn’t do it. I called for the nurse as soon as I got my gown off. I could barely move. Let me tell you this: you have no modesty after having a baby; you have another level of zero modesty when you’re naked in a shower with your nurse. For the first time in my life (and I mean that quite sincerely because I am very vain to be honest) I did not care what I looked like. My makeup had been cried off, my hair was a red cotton candy afro, I was bloody and iodine-y, and whatever else – I was 300 pounds of naked mess in front of my nurse. She kept telling me to stop apologizing while I cried. Nurses really are the most wonderful angels walking among us. I developed a fever and had to stay an extra day in the hospital. I talked to Scott on the phone and he would be home in two weeks. He had to plan his trip way in advance, and because both our girls had been late, he booked his trip a little later than my due date.
Andrew Scott Faler was a great baby. Kim came up to see him right before I was released from the hospital. I was not used to having to rely on people the way I had to after the c-section. I needed help getting into the car. I needed help getting out. I needed help getting to my bed. I needed help to get the baby. I was not myself. I was not in control. I didn’t like it one bit.
Friends would come by, my dad would go back to Shreveport and my mom left after a few weeks, being grandmother and nursemaid and overall being great when I needed her most. Scott came home to a new house and a new son and girls that had grown a little. I’m sure it was overwhelming. He was gone again two weeks later, but I treasured the time he was home. MOPS friends would bring food and ask if I needed anything. I remember Candi coming over one of those first weeks and asking to do anything I needed her to do and she meant it. I asked if she could vacuum for me and she said “of course!” and vacuumed my whole house. I’d told her I only needed the living room vacuumed. She did the stairs and everything. I couldn’t believe I had such caring friends. Were there really people like this in the world? People you could depend on at your worst? Was I in some parallel universe where people were kind and just did what needed to be done out of love and genuine concern? It was real. Those friends were there for me and saved me from a deeper depression I could have fallen into. Two weeks later my mom told me she asked my dad for a divorce. I was in complete shock. She moved in with my grandfather. Scott said he would be coming back from the Middle East and we would all be a family again.
Then it was August and no one would be prepared for what faced it. Her name was Katrina.
One the morning of the 28th, the mayor of New Orleans and the governor were calling for evacuations. We were in Covington. I was alone with the kids in my new house and was sure we would be fine. I wasn’t going anywhere. My husband would be home the next day. My neighbors talked in the street in front of my house discussing their evacuation plans. No one was staying. The men told me I had to get out of town, that I should probably go to Shreveport. I started throwing random clothes in suitcases. Scott’s mom had been saying all week that she would not evacuate because she worked at City Hall and had to be there. Even she decided to leave. She, Scott’s step-sister, and I packed up the kids and drove what would be a six hour drive to Lafayette to my sister-in-law’s house. There were other family members there. We listened to WWL on the radio for the latest news – the Causeway was closing, the airport – the message was clear: get out now. The atmosphere in Lafayette was half-party, half-anxiety overload. The airports were closed and Scott had to fly into Houston and rent a car to get to us. We all camped out in the living room and watched the news. Watched as the storm missed New Orleans, going a little to the east. Everything would be fine, we would just get some wind and rain. We watched as a CNN reporter stood in front of a strip center in my town and reported on the wind that left him barely standing up. We watched as it looked like New Orleans was safe. Then we watched as New Orleans began to fill up with water due to faulty levees. We watched and wondered if some family members would have homes to go home to. We watched as people were standing on their roofs and waited for the Coast Guard helicopters to take them to safety. We watched as water climbed and climbed and neighborhoods became lakes, and we assumed Scott’s grandparents’s house was underwater. They would lose everything in the house they had called home for 40 plus years. Scott’s dad and stepmom’s town was devastated in Mississippi.
A few days after the storm came we went to my grandfather’s house in Shreveport to stay until our house had electricity again. It was a difficult two weeks. My parents were separated and tension was high in the house with my family there and my mom and grandfather. I was glad to be in town, but wished it was under better circumstances. There was no visiting of friends, no reason for celebration. Scott went back to our house to check things out. A dozen people were staying with his mom because she had a generator. The mayor of Mandeville was there, as were half of the people needed to run the town. Our house only had damage to the very top of the chimney and our fence was mostly blown down. It was all completely fixable. Three of the trees in our backyard had fallen, but it was okay.
I’m not sure when I stopped caring about things. Was it during the c-section? Was it during Katrina, during that drive? Was it when Kanye West said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” while standing next to Mike Myers on a telethon? Was it when we returned to our home only to see that only a handful of things were open and the military was handing out MREs and bottled water in front of my Target? Was it when I first went to the grocery store and there were hardly and fresh things to buy? Was it afterward when school started a month late and our MOPS group met and wondered if we could even have MOPS that year? Was it when Molly asked if we could watch something besides the news?
It was all those things. It was the depression and anxiety that had been there all along, but broke through the ceiling of happy I had built that first year back in Louisiana.
Months would go by. People would get their roofs fixed, stores would open again, gas stations would actually have gas, and Scott would get a job and he and my dad and grandfather would put our fence back up. Everything around me was getting back to normal, on my side of the lake: on the Northshore. Things in New Orleans were still in a desperate state. Soon, I would be in a desperate state. I’m not comparing my little life to the massive loss of life and devastation of whole towns, it just happened to coincide.
My house was in mass disorder. I couldn’t keep up with laundry and cleaning and then I just didn’t give a damn. Not the “I don’t give a damn” where you come home from work and don’t load the dishwasher and put on “Grey’s Anatomy.” The kind of I don’t give a damn where you absolutely do not care what your house looks like anymore. I had been through a couple of maids who wouldn’t stay or said it was too much work for a three hour cleaning. It was close to Hoarders proportions. There were paths to walk through in my home, but nothing was clean. The kids and I were clean. I would wash clothes and leave them in the dryer until everything in the dryer had been worn and then start over. No one who knew me would suspect my house was in complete disarray. That my mind was in complete disarray. Scott’s mom would come over and clean for me. She would give me cleaning tips. I would have maids over to clean before my mom would visit or when Scott would come home, so they didn’t suspect anything. But the everyday was just convoluted as my brain was.
When Andrew was nine months old I was driving on Hwy 22 and talking on the phone with Beth. I believe at that time Scott was working in Mississippi or maybe it was St. Croix, I’m not sure because a couple of years ran together while he worked away from home because there was no work for an oil cost engineer in the recovering New Orleans job market. She was the first person to say I didn’t seem like my self. Beth was the first one to suggest I may need to talk to someone or ask my doctor about medication because I didn’t seem to care about things anymore. I couldn’t go to Walmart for fear of a panic attack and my friends knew this. There were things that were just off the table because my anxiety couldn’t handle it. One day I would be in the freezer section of Winn-Dixie and have a panic attack and be unable to close the door to the frozen peas.
I was 30.