Walking around my bucolic little town, you can’t help but notice that everyone is getting younger. Once upon a time, my husband and I were the young couple attending Sunday Open Houses in an attempt to find the perfect home within which we would build our family. In those days we were self-conscious of our youth, feeling less relevant because we had yet to start the march towards raising a family. I felt invisible until, suddenly, I too was pushing around a stroller with my precious cargo ensconced within swaddled blankets and beanies. Suddenly, I had a purpose in this town and I was not part of the infrastructure.
That feels like a lifetime ago because now I find myself becoming irrelevant once again. My womb will not produce any more offspring – the factory doors have closed, the manufacturing line has been permanently laid off and there will be no jobs returning. Despite the fact that I have been part of the system for nearly 17 years, my role has been taken over by a younger, thinner, hipper version. One who will have the top of the line designer Bugaboo or the least invasive, most productive breast pump to suckle every last drop of milk for their precious infant. I’m no longer part of that conversation. Sure, I am way hip when it comes to talking about financial aid forms and SAT prep classes but that is about as unsexy as Rockport sandlas.
Recently, while sitting in the nail salon getting my aging hands – showing signs of wear and tear and wrinkled knuckles – manicured, I glanced around me and saw a remarkably large number of pregnant women, their perfectly blossoming bellies stretching their shirts tight around the; their young skin glowing from the wealth of nutrients in their pregnancy diets. When had this hostile takeover occurred? When was I exiled to the middle-aged crowd who needed to be the designated driver on deck for the gaggle of teenagers who would certainly not be drinking illegally at the home of a child whose parents were trying to have an adult evening of their own.How did I become part of the older set? With a burgeoning teenager and my youngest turning double digits this year, those days of early motherhood are more than a distant memory. It has been nearly a full decade since the miracles of conception and childbirth were a regular part of my consciousness. Nowadays, I look at my boys and struggle to remember them as helpless infants. I have to stretch my mind to flash back to the flailing arms that accompanied shrieks as they lay in their cribs willfully resisting sleep or alerting me of their need to eat or be changed. I can barely imagine myself a young woman, starting my journey of motherhood. However, I do reminisce about those early days, sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery, looking deeply into the eyes of my small babies, searching to find what lay inside their souls. I wondered who they would turn out to be. I worried about how I would ever be able to love them enough and keep them safe. I had no idea what a mother is capable of.Of course, with the exception of my children, who are maturing at quite the rapid clip. Yesterday, sitting in the nail salon, getting my aging hands, showing signs of wear and tear and wrinkled knuckles, manicured, I glanced around me and saw a remarkably large number of pregnant women, their bellies stretching their shirts tight around them, their young skin glowing from the wealth of nutrients in their pregnancy diets. Where had they all come from? How did I become part of the older set? With a burgeoning teenager and my youngest turning double digits this year, those days of early motherhood are more than a distant memory. It has been nearly a full decade since the miracles of conception and childbirth were a regular part of my consciousness. Nowadays, I look at my boys and struggle to remember them as helpless infants. I have to stretch my mind to flash back to the flailing arms that accompanied shrieks as they lay in their cribs willfully resisting sleep or alerting me of their need to eat or be changed. I can barely imagine myself a young woman, starting my journey of motherhood. However, I do reminisce about those early days, sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery, looking deeply into the eyes of my small babies, searching to find what lay inside their souls. I wondered who they would turn out to be. I worried about how I would ever be able to love them enough and keep them safe. I had no idea what a mother is capasandals
When my older son was born, after 16 hours of induced labor and a wildly unpleasant emergency c-section, I slowly emerged from recovery after having fallen unconscious from trying to endure the not-quite anesthetized-enough surgery. As my eyes cracked open in the darkness of the recovery room and I saw the shadows of the pediatrician coming in to talk to me and the nurses checking in on me, I began to feel my heart swell and my anxiety rise. The reality was settling in and, all at once, I was exuberant and overwhelmed. All I wanted was this baby. We struggled through infertility for several years before finally taking aggressive action. On the cold February day in 2000, as I lay on my back on the table with my legs elevated, listening to Diana Ross singing “Baby Love” over the small tinny speaker in the procedure room at the Diamond Institute just a mile from my home, I knew that the doctors’ predictions were wrong. They warned me that there had only been one egg detected after pumping me up with Clomid for a few weeks and giving me a big fat shot to release whatever was produced. One egg would likely not be enough to create a child. One egg would not make me a mother. One egg would not help me begin my healing process and right the wrongs of my own childhood. One egg would not afford me the opportunity to do things differently. But, I knew they were wrong. I knew one egg was all I would need to be given the gift I prayed for every night. One egg and the fertility stones that I had placed under my pillow for weeks leading up to this day. As I watched all my friends become pregnant and give birth to their precious angels I knew I would not be robbed of this. I had faith that I would not suffer yet another indignity. Nothing had gone the way it was supposed to for me but this would. This would work.
As I lay on that table in the darkened room and heard the Supremes sing, I knew it was a sign. And, 10 days later when I felt my breasts aching in a way they never had before and I snuck out to buy a pregnancy test even though I had been warned that it could offer a false negative that might dash my hopes, I knew my miracle was growing inside me. I had faith. I believed in my destiny. And, sure enough there were two lines. There were two lines indicating that I could change the course of my own history. Two lines equalling joy beyond my wildest imagination.
I was 32. So young. Such a baby myself. I had been married for 6 years and still felt like a newlywed. We had all the trappings of a traditional life. We had bought a fixer-upper and started fixing upping. We broke down walls and renovated the bathroom and kitchen. We picked out pretty colors for the walls and bought furniture to turn our house into a home. We spent long weekends tackling home improvement projects – we built a fence, pulled out shrubs, planted flowers. We steamed off wallpaper, installed moldings and painted walls. I read home improvement magazines and imagined creating a life that would discreetly mask my former self. My old life, my trauma, my scars would be hidden behind apple green walls and refinished floors. Then, we would complete the picture by making us three. We would have little clothes, toys, strollers, bottles. We would be whole – unabridged. All of the markings of a healthy, normal family.
As my stomach swelled and I could feel the hard eggshell protecting the little growing fetus inside me I began to tackle the emotional realities of what was happening. New fears surfaced as I marked the weeks off on the calendar. The larger my stomach grew the more crystallized my anxieties became. How would I know what to do with this baby? I had no role models. I had no ecosystem. There were no grandparents or aunts and uncles who would come to my rescue when I sat alone sobbing, wondering how to care for my child. No parenting book explained how to raise a healthy child when you grew up in a dysfunctional, abusive family and your husband had the same shitty childhood as you. Who had blazed this path before me? So, I went to therapy. I started expelling my fears to someone whom I felt could guide me. She would not be there in the late nights when I sat awake, riddled with anxiety but, as I got closer to that fall day when I would meet my son for the first time, she helped me to face my fears, to understand their foundation, to accept them and try to move past them. She started me on the journey of looking under the hood. She validated my worries and assured me that I would be able to raise a child, even if I was still one myself.
When I was moved from the recovery area into the hospital room where I would get to know my son, I anxiously awaited his arrival in my arms. I vaguely recalled, moments after his birth, him being placed next to my head allowing me to take a quick look at him through tear-filled eyes. I remembered a weary sense of disbelief that this 8 lb., 9 oz. package of love was mine. I was weak from the labor and surgery and could barely comprehend what was happening. Now, hours later when I was rested, filled with the right dosage of painkillers to keep my aches at bay and my alertness intact, I was ready to soak him in. I was all set to meet him and let him know how much I already loved him. I was prepared to commit to him that I would never hurt him in the way I had been hurt. I would push past my own troubles and fears and make sure he felt safe, loved, protected, adored, admired, confident. I wanted to make that vow straight away so the first message he heard was the one I never received.
I sat up in my bed as they rolled him in and expectantly placed my arms out, ready to receive him. I had paid close attention in my childbirth and parenting classes and knew where to place my hands to secure his fragile neck, hardly strong enough to support that oversized head. That head that started swelling as he was making his way into the world, preventing him from entering through the traditional door. That sweet little head that was simply too big to make its way through my surprisingly narrow birth canal. I looked at him all swaddled up in the blanket and could not wait to pull him close. I had held so many babies in recent years, meeting my friends’ children in hospital rooms, picking them up out of their cribs, changing their diapers to get some experience. But, each time, I handed them back. I could not ensconce them in my arms and keep them there to love and dote on for days on end. As he made his descent into my arms, I breathed in, taking in his unique, sweet scent. That smell that all mothers innately recognize. The scent that serves as a biological call for procreation. The hypnotic, intoxicating aroma that, if bottled, would create billions for a manufacturer and have nations filled with perpetually pregnant women.
For hours my son and I snuggled in my bed. He slept on my chest and served as aloe, as a salve to ease my pain. The wound of the incision that enabled him to breathe his first breath was beginning to throb but his speedy little heartbeat against mine overpowered the discomfort. I resisted all offers to let him go, except to briefly pass him to my husband. Although my strong partner was elated at the sight of his first son, he was cautious. He was hesitant. He was unsure. Despite his obvious joy as he looked at his offspring, he lacked the confidence and certainty to know what to do with him. He willingly and gratefully handed him back to me to lead the way. All I had was my instinct. My pure animalistic desire to care for and love this baby. I struggled to feed him, using my god-given tools and relented after days, finally placing a bottle to his mouth, putting his health and well-being ahead of my frustration and determination to successfully breastfeed. In my mind, I had already failed by not being able to deliver him naturally. Now, only 48 hours later, I was already stacking up my disappointments as a mother as my son failed to latch on and get his nourishment from me. He was already breaking away. He was finding comfort in places other than me. Our 9-month honeymoon in paradise, our private sanctuary where only he and I existed was now over.
On the day before we left the hospital to finally embark on our new journey as a family, I placed my son on my lap in my bed so that I could study his face, inspect his body. We were alone in the room for a while and I took advantage of the solitude to decadently stare down at him. Finally, the emotions of it all took over and I cried. As the large wet tears fell from my eyes, I could see them drip onto my child’s head. I wondered if this was a symbolic exchange – a transference of sorts. I couldn’t help but wonder if these tears I shed would release me from the pain of my own troubled childhood and, upon touching his skin, allow me to heal through him. Hours later, my son was still nestled on me as I spoke on the phone with my friend Joe, my closest friend, and the other man in my life who had spent the last 15 years with me, watching me go from a tortured teenager to this. We reflected, in awe, in disbelief, of my unlikely path to here. He comforted me from 3,000 miles away, through the phone line, assuring me that I could do this; sending me on my way with a small set of tools – a starter set – to aid me in my journey.
Today, as the weather reminds me of the coming seasonal changes, as the leaves begin dropping and the colors shift from bright summer pastels to the rich autumn hues that I so naturally gravitate towards, I can almost smell the air on the day we placed our son in the backseat of our SUV, pulling out from the hospital that we would return to retrieve our next miracle just 3 years later. I can see the trees that lined the winding road that led us to our home. On that day, I looked out the window as I kept my hand firmly placed on top of his, feeling his breathing and assuring him that I would always be there – that he would always feel me near him. I looked down at his eyes, still shut tight. The same eyes that I now have to look up to see. The eyes that smile at me even when he tries so hard to pretend he doesn’t care. The same eyes that plead for me to help him even when he tries to be strong and brave. The eyes that looked up at me and told me, without any doubt, that I would always have love in my life.
As the colors rushed by and the car sped home, I knew, for sure, I was a mother and nothing would ever be the same.