strong in will


I debated the other day, when I wrote about this little baby of mine, whether or not to use his real name. I’ve kept the names of my other children on the down-low, across the public internet. It always seemed like a private thing, like a part of them I would keep to ourselves. But how do I begin to write about this baby who has already (in less than a month) flipped my entire life around without using his name? I want to keep all of him to ourselves. But I can’t. As soon as I start taking him out in the world, people will know right away that there is something different about him. And he will elicit curiosity and people will draw conclusions and I worry that he will be objectified. He is more than his deformities. He is my child. He is Ulysses.

I can’t fix him. I certainly did everything right for all the months he lived inside of me.  I am good at being pregnant. I take the best food based prenatal vitamins. I supplement with fish oil and floradix and liquid cal-mag. I drink kale smoothies. I did my best and I still couldn’t make him whole.

That, right there, is a hard one to swallow.

We like to think we are in control here. I’m totally lumping you into my ‘we’ on this one. You know you struggle with the same thoughts. The misplaced pride when everything is skating along easily. The self-doubt and blame when the easy becomes hard. I didn’t need to be reminded that our part in all this is actually quite small. But this little boy of mine will never let me forget.

We named him before we knew he would live. We called him Ulysses because he, even as he was still floating in amniotic fluid, was on a journey like no other.  My daughter, the amazing twelve year old history wizard, insists that Odysseus is the most respectable player in Greek mythology, a true hero. Plus, we are fond of mythological associations, anyway (we have a Norse goddess and a derivative of Zeus’ shield in the house already). Anecdotally, the name almost didn’t pass my muster because, according to the social security administration, it was in the top 1000 names as recently as 2005 (albeit at a lowly 982).  My taste tilts toward the old and uncommon but tried and true. Also, a literary cross reference preferred.

In this case, time travel yourself back to high school English class. Tennyson’s Ulysses is one of those ubiquitous poems, oft studied but perhaps cavalierly overlooked. Kind of like the way everyone and their mother read The Grapes of Wrath when they were teenagers, but that doesn’t keep me from considering it the best, most brilliant, work of fiction ever written. Trite? Possibly. But still perfect. So even if you had to memorize Ulysses once upon a time, you probably haven’t read it in a while.

Since it’s the last stanza in particular that resonates so powerfully with us, that’s what I’ll share here. Some big, strong words for a small, broken boy. But we think he’s up to the challenge, and we need the inspiration to make sure we are, too.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Categories: Uncategorized | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “strong in will

  1. Kristal

    Oh he has one of the sweetest baby faces I have ever seen. I just want to gobble him up.
    This is a beautiful writing. You are amazing.

  2. angie

    he is so beautiful. like you and your whole gorgeous family.

  3. He’s beautiful and his name is perfect.

  4. midgettroyani

    He is adorable.

  5. The poem made me cry. He is really a pretty baby and his hand is way less noticeable than I was expecting – definitely was less noticeable than his prettiness.

    • thanks, layne.

      for the record, that’s his “good” hand. i don’t want to avoid taking pictures of him. but i’m shy about being bold. it’s a lot to take in. i just want people to love him and not gawk. i’m sure i’ll get to a point of not caring, but it’s still fresh to *me*. i can’t imagine what other people, who aren’t his mama, will think.

      • I think the good people he meets will be curious about his hands and probably be unsure how and whether to express compassion about the situation at first but will then basically get used to it and not think about his hands as much as they think about his other traits when they think about him. Jerks will always find ways to be jerks and probably will find ways to be hurtful, but that happens to everyone.
        The only person I have known with ectrodactyly was pretty impressive most of the time and pretty defensive on occasion, but none of our mutual acquaintances really paid much attention to his hands after the first time they met. He must have gotten tired of talking about it but was pretty frank about his hands and that seemed to make them less of an issue than if he had avoided the subject. I knew him through a kids’ activity, and never really saw kids be mean to him although surely they must have been at times.
        I think that it will be a while before anyone except his mama really matters to Uly and even after that, you four will be his world for a long time, and how you see him is going to tell him who he is in a way that is too profound to be shaken by cruelty or awkwardness from anyone else. He is a really beautiful baby, but I know you know that. I love how his nose and lips already look so much like his brother and sister.

  6. Anna

    He’s so beautiful, thank you for sharing all of this with us. Continuing to send love to your family.

  7. Amanda.

    Beautiful, beautiful boy. And your writing makes me cry. Love to all of you.

  8. Petra

    He IS beautiful. EVERY part of him! Love to him and you all. xoxo


  9. i love this photo. he is so beautiful and he is strong. look at how hard he fought and is fighting just to have made it here.

    am lighting a candle for you all every day.

  10. He is so beautiful. I am popping in again to check on you all, and wanted to comment on this post because I think about this “being in control” thing that we all seem to think we have. I have secondary infertility, or at least subfertility, which I know you’re familiar with. Though I don’t really want to broadcast our plans for our family all over the internet, let’s just say that I’m turning 34 next month, have been married almost 13 years, and figured I’d have 4 kids by now. Which I don’t. Anyway, we do think we’re so in control, of everything. And sometimes learning the lesson about our lack of control is pretty intense. I think about you and baby Ulysses often. xo

    • oh, thank you. i seem to know so many people for whom so many things (family planning in particular) seem to go just as desired. it’s hard feeling like i’m a living object lesson, but i know that i’m not alone, it just feels that way sometiems. 😉 fertility issues are enormously saddening and stagnating. i have always found it very difficult to move ahead, emotionally, when i’ve been in this perpetual “maybe i’ll get pregnant!” mode for so many years. my family looks very, very different from what I imagined it would by now.

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