Friday, September 30, 2011

Laughing With Bonnie

Dylan and Christine
Today I'm headed to Vegas to perform a wedding ceremony.  Stop laughing. (I know who you are.) 

The bride-to-be is my tattoo-covered goddaughter, Christine, who will be marrying her tattoo-covered boyfriend, Dylan.  Also present will be their two-month-old baby girl, Reilly (not yet tattooed).  Noticeably absent will be Christine's mother, Bonnie. 

Bonnie and I met 20 years ago when we both worked at the world headquarters of a Fortune 50 company. Her infectious laugh--especially at my immature jokes--was an attribute that stood out amidst the sea of oh-so-serious MBA-types in our sterile work environment. But it was her sense of compassion for the underdog, and the passion with which she strove to create fairness in an often-unfair world, that cemented our friendship. Bonnie weighed no more than 95 pounds, yet inside that tiny body was an enormous heart.

Within a year of meeting, she and I decided to go into business together. A single mom, Bonnie loaded her two kids, two cats, and two gerbils in the car and moved from New York to Los Angeles, where I had recently relocated. (By the time they arrived, they were down one gerbil.)

We spent long nights working on our business plan, usually over wine and lots of laughs. We encouraged each other to go on blind dates, and then laughed together when those dates were a complete flop. We cooked holiday meals together, took her kids to Chuck E. Cheese’s together, and spent a lot of time visualizing big plans for our respective futures. But mostly, we laughed.

Our business didn’t work out, but our friendship remained rock solid. In time, I relocated back east again for another corporate job, but we stayed in touch. One day, a mutual friend, Kelli, called to tell me that Bonnie was in the hospital. While at the public library with her kids, Bonnie had begun hemorrhaging profusely. As she lay on the floor of the library about to lose consciousness, she told her seven and nine-year-old to call Kelli and then lock themselves in the car until Kelli arrived to retrieve them.

At the hospital, doctors discovered that Bonnie had uterine cancer that was so advanced, her body was actually trying to abort her uterus; thus, the massive hemorrhage. Bag after bag of blood was transfused and an emergency hysterectomy was performed. Following the surgery, there was heated discussion about chemotherapy. Without it, some of her doctors argued, Bonnie would die. Others said that because of her weight, chemo would surely kill her. Ultimately, her lack of health insurance made the final decision: no chemo.

Once Bonnie’s health stabilized, she got serious about handling the legal paperwork for my guardianship of the kids if she were to die while they were still minors. Suddenly, as a single-woman with no dependents, I was contemplating the likelihood of instantly becoming a mother. But I should’ve given Bonnie more credit. When it came to having a goal about which she cared deeply, she was like a dog with a bone. And Bonnie’s goal was clear: to raise her kids herself.

After a decade in remission, her cancer returned with a vengeance, and shortly after Christine’s eighteenth birthday, Bonnie died in her sleep. Her two now-grown children, a handful of friends, and I took a boat out to sea and spread her ashes. Then we went to a restaurant and drank her favorite champagne and told stories about her and laughed until our sides hurt. Because Bonnie would’ve wanted that.

For her wedding tomorrow, Christine has asked me to incorporate stories of her mother into the ceremony. Thus, while Bonnie’s absence will be palpable, her presence will be undeniable. And I suspect this will be one of those weddings that involves a lot of laughter.
Bonita Louise Young
1955 - 2005
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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Can You Imagine?

A question for all you parents out there: Do you remember when you first held your baby? Do you remember the overwhelming sense of love you felt for that tiny soul who’d just come into your life? Now can you even imagine resenting that baby?  Can you imagine wishing that you’d terminated the pregnancy months before when you had the chance?

It shames me to say that I know that feeling, the one about resentment.  I know what it feels like to be in such indescribable physical pain as a result of being pregnant that you wish you could go back in time and do the unthinkable. 

Today, most people who learn of my experience nearly dying in childbirth immediately want to reach for the Hallmark version of the story: how I must’ve missed my baby so much when she was sent to live with my brother’s family 400 miles away while I struggled to stay alive in the ICU. But that’s just not true.

My experience with childbirth – my first and last – was skewed by the onset of a very common pregnancy-related disorder called preeclampsia, which claims the lives of 76,000 moms and half a million babies every year.  Every year. 

For me, preeclampsia meant multiple organ failure, massive blood transfusions, and pain. Lots and lots of pain. It taught me that it’s possible to suffer so intensely that no amount of morphine can quell it, and no amount of maternal love can overcome it. By the time I was released from the hospital and my baby came home to live with my husband, Jeff, and me when she was two months old, my resentment had shifted to a different emotion – failure. I felt I had failed as a mother before I even began mothering.

Not everyone who deals with preeclampsia goes through the same emotions that I did. I’ll bet my friend Leticia never resented her baby.  How could she? Four days after he was born prematurely due to preeclampsia, he died. And what emotions must my friends John and Brenda have felt as they held their first grandchild shortly after preeclampsia took their daughter’s life? How does my friend Chris feel every time she takes one of her triplets to yet another doctor appointment to address the ongoing health issues tied to their preeclampsia-induced prematurity?

Preeclampsia is capable of causing such utter despair.  And the antidote to despair is hope.  For millions of new moms and babies, that hope comes in the form of blood. That’s precisely why the Preeclampsia Foundation and the Foundation for America’s Blood Centers are collaborating on a gala benefit in NYC this November 12th – to create hope for every person who has ever felt the despair brought on by preeclampsia, to create hope for the millions of new moms and babies who will rely on lifesaving blood transfusions in the future. 

I am chairing this event and could sure use your help: auction items, sponsors, ticket sales, and attendance (email me! Even if you can’t attend, you can show your support with an online donation: Every bit adds up to more hope.

Can you imagine a world in which every new parent gets to hold their beloved baby and be swept away by an indescribable love? Not despair, just love. 

I can. 

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!