Sunday, May 11, 2008

Becoming a Mother

Saturday Morning 1982

"Insanity is heriditary;
you get it from your children.
Sam Levenson

The Oldest, 1982

"When we're all grown up
will you be retarded from motherhood?"

The Boys (with Chickenpox) 1982

"My mother had a great deal of trouble with me,
but I think she enjoyed it."
Mark Twain

The Little Kids 1983

"Looking at people who belong to us,
we see the past, present and future."
Gail Lumet Buckley

The Baby, 1984

"Every adult needs a child to teach;
it's the way adults learn.
Frank A. Clark

1st South, 1982

"We do not remember days;
we remember moments."
Cesare Pavese

I always wanted to be a mother. Before I met Dee, we were sitting at opposite ends of a large, crowded table. The conversation was about how many kids we all wanted, and Dee and I each said "Twelve." Somebody seated in the middle heard our individual responses and said, "You two ought to get together!"

Two weeks later we did. Less than sixteen months after that we were parents.

In those days a newborn slept in the hospital nursery and the nurse only brought her into the ward (there were six new mothers in the same room) every four hours. I was very self-conscious. I'd never even seen a woman breast-feed a baby before, and I was extremely uncomfortable about the nurse examining my breast, touching it, and helping the baby
latch on. My mother had bottle-fed her babies, and warned me that I'd never have enough milk, so I had no confidence in my abilities. Neither did the nurse.

The other moms cuddled their infants, who seemed experts at eating. My babe just howled. I started to dread the whole process. Hospital stays were longer then, and I could hardly wait for the fourth day when I could finally go home. I still felt like the baby was a stranger, and I worried because I didn't have a huge surge of maternal love. I was exhausted and discouraged.

We went to recuperate at my parent's house. Gabi slept all day and screamed all night. It was very traumatizing and I could tell that Dee was anxious to leave in the morning. By then I had enough milk for quadruplets, but the baby wouldn't suck. I was miserable. It hurt to walk, my clothes didn't fit, and I felt defensive, frustrated and helpless. I couldn't even take a shower because the baby cried whenever I put her down.

(A side-note: On one of those desperate days the doorbell rang and I answered it in my robe. It was my old boyfriend, coming to pick up my little sister for a date! He stared at me in total shock. I wanted to die.)

Two weeks after the birth it was a holiday. My family announced they were going horseback riding, and Dee had to work. (He sold real estate out of a trailer which was parked on the development site. The girl he worked with was gorgeous, wore white leather
hot pants, and didn't have a screaming infant dangling from her rock solid boob.) Jealousy burned inside me while I sat at home alone, all day, for the first time as a mother.

Within a few days we returned to our own little place where Dee dropped us off and went to school. The clothes I'd been wearing when my water broke were in a paper bag on the table. The bed was unmade because of our hasty trip to the hospital, and the dishes from three weeks before were still in the sink. I was overwhelmed. How could I do this?

Full time motherhood was surprising. I hadn't realized how repetitive and lonely it would be at first. Watching a new baby grow can be tedious. We didn't have a TV, so I read and nursed. It was my first experience in re-inventing myself. Though I wasn't quite 21-years-old, I wanted instant maturity, wisdom, patience and perspective and I checked out many books from the library hoping to find insight. I read Dr. Spock's
Baby and Child Care religiously.

By the time Gabi was six weeks old, life had improved. She and I had learned the secrets of breast-feeding together, she slept a few hours at a time, and instead of being an intruder she was the center of our family. One Sunday I bathed her (like a pro) and then put her in a tiny, new green embroidered dress. When I picked her up, she screamed in agony. I bounced her and rocked her, and passed her over to Dee. With every move she cried louder.

I knew her cries by now, and I could tell she was in pain. She couldn't be comforted. After an hour or so of walking the floor with her, I stripped off her clothes thinking I could massage her tummy. As soon as the dress came off she stopped crying. It was miraculous. She calmed down immediately and fell asleep with tears glistening in her eyelashes.

I picked up the little outfit and felt a prick. Two straight pins were stuck in each puffy sleeve! With every bounce they had jabbed into her tiny baby arms. I burst into tears, with the knowledge that I had caused her pain. Tenderness filled my soul, and my heart nearly burst with a desire for her happiness.

Becoming a Mother

That day I recognized that my dreams had come true. I had become a mother.

"Two new people were born.
She was new to the world and I was reborn...

Gone was the self-centered girl.
I had labored to bring a child into the world,
and the fear and pain had somehow awakened a new compassion in my heart.
I could never more return to my pre-transition existence,
for I had been born into motherhood
and must now be initiated into the mysteries of womanhood--
the nourishing life."
Joan Borysenko


Christie said...

I love all the old pictures - I can see traces of my own kids in one of those faces.

gab said...

Thanks for sticking with the breast feeding...although I am a little grossed out by the thought now.

And, remember how I always hated to try on new clothes? I think we both know why now!

You are an amazing mom and a great and honest communicator about motherhood...good and bad. Love you!

Bridget said...

That was a beautiful post. I loved seeing all those pictures too. I feel like I know most of your family by now.

kenju said...

Your photos are priceless, especially the last one. I had almost the same thing happen to me, but it was an open diaper pin that jabbed my baby boy. I felt like such a failure.

Ashlee said...

Wonderful post. Loved that first picture! I love reading stories such as yours. It helps me know I'm not the only one that felt that way. does go away, but those first few weeks can be overwhelming. :0)

Lindsey said...

You are such an amazing story teller. I loved it. Not to mention the fact, you either have an amazing memory or a serious stack of journals. Either way, I am jealous.

Polly said...

Loved the pictures! This is how I remember your kids.

MissKris said...

What a beautiful quote about motherhood...isn't it the truth?! I hope you had a lovely Mother's Day, Marty. Seeing your little guys with chickenpox reminded me of my son who had them around the same time period. He was covered from head to toe and even had them on the soles of his feet!! They hurt so badly, we had to carry him everywhere until they finally began to clear up! I enjoyed your photo essay here of the kids...what a lovely family you have!

diane said...

I love this piece. The first picture reminds me of The Sound of Music.

Robin said...

This is a beautiful post. I especially loved the poem at the end.

Claudia said...

Hello Oma! I recentley happened upon your blog and have had such a spiritual connection with you. Your words hit cords that are oh so familiar. I also had a mom and a nurse that said I couldn't nurse my screaming baby. I believed them.:( When I found out that my second was on her way, I read and studied everything on the subject and found success with her and the siblings that followed.I was also born in 71' like your baby. Looking forward to reading more about you. Thanks for being YOU!