Some of my readers have asked me not to keep them in suspense for too terribly long. I will try to roll the whole story out, perhaps not efficiently (my usual way of working), but rather in a narrative that may go down a few rabbit trails. This is not meant to frustrate, but sharing such personal stories takes a lot of thoughtful sorting. I have been saving up these stories for so many years, that you may want to pull up a chair, pour yourself a warm cup of coffee, and read slowly. And remember, Italians are never in a hurry. And Irish love to tell their stories with flair.
As shared earlier, a ruptured appendix can contribute to female infertility. So can scar tissue. Even when incisions are not left open to heal on their own, as mine were, you get scar tissue. And then there were four more surgeries in that same abdomen, bless its little heart. Since I was a pneumonia patient who was near death, and my appendix had already ruptured, (these are the reasons I was told; docs feel free to correct me), I could not remain in surgery for too long. So, the stump of the appendix was left in my abdomen, and the plan was to remove it later, when I was stronger. And stronger I did become. I went home in February, slowly recovered, (probably due to the rigors of dish duty) and by June had caught up with my class, and graduated from 8th grade at St. Patrick’s School.
I think I was at least 95 lbs, by my graduation, which is a pretty good rate of weight gain for a person who ate like a pig. I recall my Italian grandmother (who deserves her own category on this blog), taking me to Pittsburgh on a shopping trip to buy my white graduation dress. We went to Kauffman’s in South Hills actually, which sadly is now gone and has been replaced by The Galleria. On the rare occasions when I return to Pittsburgh and shop there, I can never enter that parking garage and not recall that trip. In those days if you needed a special occasion outfit, you went to one of the big three department stores: Joseph Horne’s, Gimbels (no apostrophe), or Kauffman’s. At these grand department stores, your purchase would be carefully folded and placed in layers of folded, white tissue paper inside a white cardboard box. (Not only did we not try to save the rain forest back then, we were unaware that one existed.) Kauffman’s was considered the top of the three so of course we went there. (Grandma Celento only bought the highest quality.) We found a lovely white empire waist dress, with bell sleeves and a pretty satin bow. I looked in the mirror and the Biafran, pregnant, Catholic school girl was gone, but Twiggy and I still looked as if we had been separated at birth. In fact the boys on my school bus used to call me Twiggy when I first returned back to school. So I was still a bit on the skinny side, and I don’t think Grandma Celento ever saw me again without commenting that “Elizabeth is so thin”, with a worried look. I worked hard to gain weight, and now often recall that time as so odd now that I have to work so hard to lose weight. It is actually hard to change one’s weight from either end, as I learned.
I recall wearing that fancy dress to school on my graduation morning, and the reaction of the boy on the bus. I don’t think they had ever noticed me before, but somehow that dress had transformed me into a young lady, and I was not at all prepared for the fanfare my arrival elicited. There were comments such as Va-va-va-voom! which was so very Rat Packish (we had not yet been exposed to more cooler verbiage such as groovy and smokin’ hot) and other similar comments, with lots of wide-eyed staring at my transformation. You may be wondering, What kind of dress did your Italian grandmother BUY you?! Smile. If you think it was a sexy number, you may have been watching a bit too much Jersey Girls, or other shows that end with licious. Rest assured it was all very modest. I look back on that morning now and realize that up to that day, I had no idea of the effect that women had on men. I was very innocent, and unlike Leisl in the Sound of Music, I did NOT know that I was naive, but naive I was. I was taken by surprise: to go from retching to fetching in just five months was baffling to me. (And after being married for 31 years and raising two sons,wonderful men all, I still don’t get completely get it.)
So I impressed, I processed, and I graduated (not sure of the Latin for that). I put away my white graduation dress, changed back into my tomboy clothes, and went right back into the hospital shortly after, as a strong, healthy teenager who was going to have a routine appendectomy. I would be in the hospital for one week, and then take about four weeks to fully recover, and then enter high school in the fall. And that all happened without a hitch. I had a normal surgery, and this time I even had stitches. It was amazing how fast I bounced back. I recall coming home from the hospital and going out that same afternoon to play a little croquet. We had purchased at least two croquet sets by saving our S & H Green Stamps, and kept them in continual play for a few years. My mom thought I should rest, but I wanted to be outside and play a game or two. It felt great to heal quickly and be normal!
I never thought about that fact that at 13, I now had lots of scar tissue from two surgeries, and two more surgeries would come a few years later. My surgeon from the last infertility operation told me that basically when you do surgery to remove scar tissue, you remove one and leave two. That does not bode well for me. So I was pretty much a scar tissue nightmare, even though I looked as normal and healthy on the outside as any other young woman. By the time I was 27, we had reached the end of the line, fertility wise, and were urged by the doc to seriously consider other options, such as adoption.
ADOPTION. As soon as the doc said that word, I sat on that examining table with my mind flashing back to three years ago to a young, crazy in love couple who were trying to figure out their future together. I had not heard the adoption word since that day, and had actually forgotten about it. This starry-eyed couple were having a conversation about their dreams, a conversation which I later came to see would be my husband’s greatest gift to me. I don’t find that God always pulls back the curtain and lets you see hidden work that helps make sense of our troubles. Most of the time we are simply asked to trust in His goodness. But that day I was given a gift; I just didn’t know it.
Joe: So Liz, what are your life dreams?
Me: Me? Oh, I have always wanted to go overseas. How do you feel about that?
Joe: Um, not really into that.
Me: Do you think you could forsee a time when you would be?
Joe: Not really. (My husband is not a people pleaser; it is one of his worst faults.)
Me: Hmm…ok…well tell me yours; what are you big dreams?
Joe: I want to adopt children. How do you feel about that?
Me: Well…I guess that might be ok (actually I had never given it a moment’s thought, but I was a people pleaser, and this seemed like a deal breaker for Joe). I was thinking that we would have our own kids. But…um…ok…I guess I can consider adopting kids if it is that important to you.
Joe: It is.
I am a big Phil Keaggy fan; ironic that I had to miss his concert at my church in Atlanta because Joe was working, and I could not get a sitter for my three little ones. Smile. Here is one of his songs that I first heard at Penn State, and listened to about…..2 million times. Nothing speaks to me like music, and especially his. If you cannot see God’s plan, as was often the case for me, give it a listen. Keaggy has such a wonderful way of making you see God’s kindness. I still cry each time I hear this song, but most of the time it is happy tears.