It was great connecting with you on the call tonight!
Here are your topics for writing this week; I remember, the first time, the last time, the day my baby was born, my baby's dad, my mother, at 2:00 in the morning, I don't remember, the city, the moment I know, the hardest day and morning light.
Please choose 5 topics that you free-write on this week for 15 minutes on each.Remember to write into your feelings (not around them)...allow yourself to go deeply into specific memories.
Please post at least one free-write on this thread this week. Feel free to ask questions here but please remember to refrain from comments about another's writing...
All my best!
Jaimie here. Sorry if I monopolized the "questions" time! I'll shut up next time. And to clarify--while I did teach writing for a number of years, I did NOT teach anything like memoir, autobiography, creative writing, etc. I only taught freshman college English which focuses on things like argumentative essays. I'm a total beginner in this realm and very, very shy and nervous about sharing this kind of writing.
I actually have another question for Tanya: Is this forum open to the public, or is it private? That might impact some of the stuff I choose to cut from my freewrites before posting since I use this screen name in other places as well.
Mittens, I wrote down that for the writing, don't edit anything. Editing comes later. Emotions are good--write through it. Write into the stories rather than around them. Be willing to feel deep feelings and speak into what is unspeakable. Give yourself permission to feel deeply and give yourself freedom. Stream of consciousness, no right or wrong. I hope this helps.
This is a private forum, too. And I have a question too--when 15 min. is up do you just stop where you are, or keep going if you feel like you want or need to or are in the middle of a thought? I know you said there's no right or wrong, i'm curious what you do?
|I actually have another question for Tanya: Is this forum open to the public, or is it private? That might impact some of the stuff I choose to cut from my freewrites before posting since I use this screen name in other places as well.|
But this is a sacred space and we are here to hear each other. Deeply. Which is why I request no feedback for now (even positive)...I want to allow each of you some big space to simply write and share, then write and share some more...to allow yourself your real, raw, intimate voice...and allow it to be received by us.
Great Cachet, that you are working with "Writing Down the Bones". Natalie is a friend here in Santa Fe and I think her books on memoir are the best. Her latest book "Old Friend from Far Away' is also wonderful. I also would consider Anne Lammott's "Bird by Bird".
Welcome Mittens...I also posted some writing guidelines on another thread, but that is the basic assignment for this week.
At the end of 15 minutes, if you are inspired to keep writing, go for it! The guideline is to support your emotional courage to "just do it" for 15 minutes then allow yourself to stop.
Jamie, ask as much as you like!
by Peggy O'Mara
As part of Mothering’s 30th-anniversary celebration, Tanya Taylor Rubinstein, artistic director of Project Life Stories, produced an evening of monologues on the universal topic of mothering. The performance was a benefit for Many Mothers, a nonprofit group in Santa Fe that provides free postpartum care to new mothers. Tanya asked me to do one of the monologues because she wanted to know more about my own story as a mother.
Mothering: The Monologues debuted at the Armory for the Arts in Santa Fe on May 13. Six other women and I performed autobiographical monologues about experiences related to motherhood. I’d like to share with you the monologue that I performed.
I fell in love with him because of his smile and I wanted that smile to shine on me forever. We were looking for the same things then: a farm, babies, a life that made sense. We wasted no time getting pregnant, outside in the backyard of our farmhouse. The farm was on two acres and cost $17,000. We could barely afford the $250 monthly mortgage payment—or much else—so we put our cash in labeled envelopes to make sure that it would last.
Our farm was in La Luz, in southern New Mexico, surrounded by desert. We had an orchard and we canned the fruit and put it in the root cellar, and I won a blue ribbon for my canned cherries at the Otero County Fair. We had goats, chickens, ducks, geese, a lone turkey. From time to time, the goats would get loose from the barn and run through the orchard, biting snips of leaves from the fruit trees as we chased them.
The goats gave birth a couple of months before our first child, Lally, was born. More than perhaps anything else, it was the goats that gave me confidence in my own ability to give birth. I woke up one morning in May and there they were: two baby goats. It was nothing out of the ordinary, just another day.
I figured if the goats could do it, so could I.
On the last day of June, my water broke to a thunderstorm at dusk as I sat on our bed on the porch. It began to rain. I had invited way too many friends to the birth and none of them were midwives. Maggie and Veronica wanted to be midwives and had delivered their own babies, but they lived 100 miles away and never made it to the birth. Eventually everyone went home or fell asleep. I sat alone having contractions in the middle of the night as I watched a mouse run across the floor.
After a six-hour pushing stage, we didn’t know what to do, so we went to the hospital. I begged for them not to strap down my hands and feet and asked to take my baby’s placenta home. I was accused of trying to be just like my grandmother.
It was because of these kinds of things that we delivered each other’s babies then. There were no midwives. There was no Internet. My husband, John, and I delivered Marlo, Marsh, and Lelaña—our friends’ babies—before we realized that we had no idea what we were doing.
I was in an ecstasy of babies then. I was on a long prolactin high. No one told me about this. No one told me that I would feel like a wild animal ready to kill or be killed at a moment’s notice, with no hesitation at all, right now, for my baby.
I would sit on the bed at night nursing Lally and imagine a lion jumping through the window. I would plan how to kill him. I would tear him limb from limb. I knew that no matter what, my baby would survive.
My first children were born in that house in La Luz. I was so happy there. In those days I couldn’t see the obstacles that lay ahead. I didn’t know that the smiles would fade, that the marriage would end. I didn’t know that I would give birth to a baby with a birth defect, a cleft lip and palate.
The hardest thing I have ever done was to carry my three-month-old, blue-eyed baby boy in my arms to the doors of the operating room to have his lip repaired, to give him up to strangers, and then to see him come back hours later changed, the same baby but not the same. A different baby. To bring him to the operating room again at 16 months. At 11 years. Bram’s best friend, Elijah, almost fainted when he saw how he looked right after the last surgery.
It was at Brammie’s first birthday party that Addie asked me if I wanted to buy the magazine. She told me about her dream in which she passed the torch to me. Of course I wanted to buy the magazine. I had always wanted to, but I had no idea how. I went to the Small Business Administration to borrow the $5,000 she wanted as a down payment, but they didn’t loan to publications. I went to the bank and showed the loan officer a financial statement that was $60,000 in the red while my three children under five played in the ashtrays.
I didn’t get the loan.
Neither my father nor my cousin agreed to loan me the $5,000, and after Bram’s birth, we had no savings left. So I reluctantly told Addie that I couldn’t come up with the down payment and gave up the idea of buying the magazine. I was happy to be “just a mom.”
Addie sold the magazine to someone else, to a Canadian couple, and had already shipped all the Mothering files to Ohio when the deal fell through. She called me as we were in the middle of moving out of our house to ask if I still wanted to buy the magazine. This time I got on the phone and convinced her dad that we were a good enough risk even without the down payment, and he wrote a contract that made sure that we would be.
In January of 1980 John and I became the owners of Mothering. I remember the dress I was wearing, the moment after we signed the papers in an office building in Albuquerque. Except for births and weddings, it was the happiest day of my life.
It was because of the magazine that I saved Nora’s life. It was because of the things that I had learned when I was researching and preparing issue no. 20, a special on self-care. It was because of the letter to the editor from the reader whose baby was brain-damaged because of spinal meningitis. She accused Mothering of being one-sided, too anti-doctor. Her letter troubled me. I wondered if she was right. Her letter made me watchful as five-month-old Nora, my youngest child, got sicker and sicker.
“She’s not the same baby,” seven-year-old Finnie said when he looked at her. She was ashen. She didn’t have a high fever, but she was not herself. And, the fontanel on the top of her head was pulsating.
In one of the books that I’d read for the self-care special, Taking Care of Your Child, I kept coming up with references to meningitis whenever I looked up Nora’s symptoms. I called my pediatrician’s office, and the nurse assured me that it was just a flu that was going around.
A chiropractor friend adjusted Nora’s neck, and as we left his office, she cried in a strange, high-pitched way that I recognized from my vaccine research as the cephalic cry. By the next day she was refusing to nurse, and when we listened to her heartbeat with a stethoscope, it was irregular. I had read in Taking Care of Your Child that an irregular heartbeat was a danger sign, so we rushed Nora to the urgent-care center, where we were told: Go right now to the hospital. Don’t stop for red lights.
Our doctor met us there, immediately gave Nora a spinal tap, and said that she had just developed meningitis—even though I now realized that this is what she had had for days.
He told us that she might die. The perimeter of that room and the tone of his voice will be vivid in my mind forever: the room seemed dark and his voice far away. A huge steel trap went shut in my mind when he said those words. It would not happen. I would not let it happen. I would will it not to happen. Nora would not die.
So I camped by her crib in the pediatric intensive care unit, where the doctors and nurses took Nora’s vital signs every 15 minutes. I wept as I pumped my breastmilk. I wept not only because of the danger Nora was in, but because I feared that—like Bram after his first surgery—she would never nurse again. I prayed over her incessantly.
After three days she began to come back, and by the fourth day she was nursing again. We moved into a private room for another week and, days before Christmas 1982, we went home.
John, Lally, Finnie, and Bram met us in the orange Volvo station wagon with a song they had made up on the way there, set to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”: “Oh, bring us a Mama/Nora, Oh, bring us a Mama/Nora. Oh, bring us a Mama/Nora. Oh, bring them right now!
Later, the doctor told me that Nora would always be my “upper respiratory child,” but in fact she appears to have suffered no ill effects from the meningitis.
. . . .
In the early 1980s, when I’d just bought the magazine, my father would ask why I printed the “naked pictures.” At first I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then I realized that he meant the birth photos. My mom simply hid the magazine in a basket under a pile of other magazines until her friends started telling her how cool it was. Then she put Mothering on her coffee table.
Growing up, I lived in 45 houses. I wanted my children to grow up in one home. They have. My home is the kind of place where we can let down our hair, get rowdy, fall apart. The home I have made for my children is a place where we can talk about anything, where we have old friends over for barbecues and my children know that I will take care of things, know that I will be there, that I will stand by them no matter what.
This is the kind of home I have made. This is where I have lived for 22 years. I feel lonely here sometimes. I feel wonder here. Mostly, I just feel grateful. This is the home that I have made for my children. This is where they have grown up. This is where I have grown up too
Through the years I had told myself that I really would never have a child. Even all through my second pregnancy, even after we had passed through the time our first child had died in my womb and we were in unchartered territory, I still wouldn't, couldn't believe this day would come. And I guess, in that raw moment, my first emotion was shock, disbelief, even in spite of all the facts and evidence to the contrary.
I loved her immediately. I was in a swirl, a fog as she was laid on my chest, as I cradled her tiny, vernix-covered body. This little girl, who had my big eyes, was very real and had been wanted for so long, even before I knew it myself.
She came out screaming which was unexpected but makes perfect sense now. I always heard water babies were calm. Calm has never described my daughter. She came on her due date, right in the beautiful sunny morning hours. I had labored all night without even realizing it. Labor was smooth, steady, quiet, peaceful. I was moved to the bed. The bath water was red, too red, our hour together, too short and not private like it was supposed to be. Something was wrong. There were needles. Why where there needles? Why weren't we alone?
Time to get up. The Dr. had to stitch me up. I remember telling my husband I wasn't done yet. I didn't have any idea how true that statement was. One moment one of the midwives and my husband are lifting me up to walk to the exam room. The next I am back in bed, no idea where I am. Is that Josh (my husband)? Why is his face so close? I asked him where I was. I start to remember. I had a baby. I'm at the birth center. I see the midwives' faces. I see Josh's. Deep concern. Something's wrong but I don't understand what. I hear them say they need to transfer me to the hospital. I tell Josh I'm scared. I still don't understand. I don't know what the concerned looks are for. The Dr. is there now, the one that had come to stitch me up, my Dr. He's putting an IV in. They're putting an oxygen mask on my face. They tell me at some point my in-laws have my baby. Josh doesn't leave my side. We ride in the ambulance to the hospital.
He has been such a part of fulfilling my bucket list: being proposed to on one knee, getting married in a beautiful dress in the front of my church, being romantically rowed around a pond in a small boat.
He has expanded me by pushing to take a chance to explore new areas by being my travel partnet to DC, London, Paris, and Rome. Finally I found someone who enjoyed art as much as me! My family didn't like that stuff and neither did my college friends.
Because he has such a love of computers, I'll admit I've never done much to one. "I don't want to mess with his systems." His interests became a part of mine as we competed with a variety of games such as Civ and Red Alert. Nothing like conquering your husband with your armies!
I would never have guessed what a fantastic father he would be from just those initial times we hung out together. I knew he was a great man - I wanted to marry him after all. I just didn't predict his ability to be a father. He has such a gentle manner as he deals with the kids all day as a stay at home dad. Our kids are a credit to him. How they act, play, think is under his guidance. I get jealous of the amount of time he spends with them, but feel blessed that they have that opportunity to be with a father like that.
When the contractions finally started, I had a hard time believing this was really it. The surges kept coming, possessing my body before flowing out of me again. They were five minutes apart. I know this, because I phoned my own mother to time them. She was at work, on the other side of the globe, calling me from her cellphone while I was laboring on the toilet. “Here’s another one, mom. Did you write that down?” It was an unusual and expensive, yet so real way to connect with my own mother.
When the contractions were three minutes apart, it was time to call the midwife - these were her instructions. She was the only homebirth midwife in this foreign country, and I was so lucky to have found her at 34 weeks. My midwife seemed like a kind and honest person, though I felt a clear distance from her. We do not speak each other’s languages, but today the ancient language of birth is all we need.
The midwife arrived to find me 5cm dilated - the baby would be here soon, she said. I sat on my bed, quietly experiencing the cotractions that were slowly growing stronger. What an interesting experience. Is this it then? I don’t know what the big deal is, but it really doesn’t hurt all that much. The streets of Belgrade were melting because of the hot weather, yet here I was strangely cold, shivering even. The midwife had mentioned that we could walk around the park in early labor, when we first met up. That sounded great to me when she proposed it, but now I just wanted to be in my bedroom, listening to my body, my baby and simply experiencing. People called to check how I was doing. I switched my phone off. This moment is one for me and my daughter, and the only person with the privilege of looking in is my midwife.
As the contractions changed shape suddenly, I realized that this must be where I push. My waters broke. “Olivia, jel’ ti sad pukao vodenjak?” What? What is she saying? “Voda, voda?” “Yes, my water broke!” I tell my midwife, assuming this is what she wanted to know. She checks my cervix, and tells me I am complete. The sensations I was having told me so already, and I was pushing.
The unbreable urge to reach down to feel my baby overcomes me. I need some extra motivation to finish this final bit. I reach down to feel a squishy skull, ready to be born. I look down to see a tiny pair of scissors getting ready to cut. “No, don’t cut!” I yell at my midwife. “Don’t cut!’ After a few more attempts, she finally gives up. I feel my daughter crown, and vomit. I push, and vomit again. My urge to vomit is hindering my ability to push with each contraction, as my midwife is instructing. It has been 10 minutes since the urge to push arrived, yet my midwife is saying something about going to hospital. I push harder, and try not to puke. Finally, she slides out. I am naked, hot and not wearing my glasses, and look over to see my baby.
I see a white shape, and the umbilical cord still leading to me. I look at her face and see my mother. This vernix-covered fresh, totally fresh, human being has something truly angelic about her. Looking into her deep blue eyes, I am humbled. I put her to my breast, and she nurses. My little Kaya. This little squished creature with blonde hair, who is looking at me as she nurses, she is my daughter. I am a mother. I put her in her crib next to my bed, but she keeps on looking at me, this little newborn, at a few hours old, is stretching her little hands towards me, through the edges of the crib. It is like she is saying, “I don’t want to be alone”. So I lift her up into my bed, fold my hands around her, and we fall asleep.
Yesterday my son ate breakfast and decided to go out and play on his new rope swing before doing his math. He opened the back door and laughed as Harvey, our black, 150lb one year old pup streaked past him to get a bird. My coffee mug was hot and heavy in my hands but I stood, transfixed at how beautiful my eight year old looked in the early sunlight. He stepped onto the porch, spread his arms wide, spun in a circle and shouted “What a glorious day”. In that moment I felt so much love for him that my stomach hurt. But I also felt more than just a twinge of jealousy. I don’t think I ever had the chance to notice a glorious day. I was too busy stepping over naked strangers and picking up empty beer bottles before my little brother woke up.
I am so glad, so grateful that Ethan has come into my life. He has given me the opportunity to see and fell joy that I never had before. But sometimes it’s incredibly hard to be his mom too. Because somewhere, not so deep down, is a little six year old girl. A little Dannie that is terribly hurt, terribly afraid, terribly wise beyond her years and terribly, painfully alone. When she sees how much fun Ethan’s childhood is, how much he is loved and how safe he is, she gets sad and jealous. Sometimes she even gets angry. But most of the time she just wants to come o ut and play in the sunshine so that she can feel what she never did when she was flesh-so that she can create a memory she can run to when there’s nowhere else to hide.
I want to give little Dannie the chance to come out and play, but I don’t remember how.
I remember being embarrassed at my previous self. I remember the slowly dawning realization that the issues were far more complex than I ever realized. I was on the other side, a bell had been rung and I couldn't undo it. It just was and I was stuck without another way to turn.
I remember being annoyed at all the reassurances from others that everything was going to turn out alright. I remember hating all the discussions and the excitement and wishing everyone would stop talking about it.
I remember wanting to avoid people because it was all so much easier if I just didn't think about it. I remember mostly ignoring things as much as possible because if not, when in private all I could do was cry. For myself and all the dreams of ideas I had about my family and our future.
I remember feeling badly because I felt like I was asking too much of Lilly. She was only 15 months old. I remember mourning the loss of our breastfeeding relationship. I had plans to do so for as long as she was interested. I remember feeling guilty when it all got to be too much. She wasn't sleeping through the night and nursed as often as she did when she was a little baby. I remember feeling so guilty over her frustration when my milk supply diminished. I remember moving her out of our bed and into her own not because she was necessarily ready but because I couldn't take it any more. I remember thinking that if I was going to have to do this all over again then I needed some space to myself.
I remember being disappointed when my husband asked me several months in when it was that I was going to get excited about the new baby that would join our family. I remember wishing on the one hand that he understood and on the other wishing that I could just get on board with everyone else.
I remember mostly being hurt when my family declared their excitement. They didn't understand and they wouldn't have to live it. They come into our lives as a visitor and go home shortly there after. They wouldn't have to give birth, or breastfeed, or take care of the baby. The wouldn't be home alone with the baby, Lilly and Josiah for hours on end. They wouldn't ever have to face the decisions I would as to whether or not I had to let go of my plans, my values, my dreams.
I remember when I just stopped talking about it, worrying that I would be found out. What if others knew how I felt? Every now and then I still struggle with the thought that maybe an abortion wouldn't have been such a bad thing. I don't know how to reconcile that with the fact that I love my daughter fiercely just as I did with my other two when they were babies. That I would do anything to protect and care for her, just like the other two. I struggle with come to terms with loving her and yet still not quite "wanting" her. It seems like one of those things that you should never talk about. Daring to speak it would only reveal that you are who you most fear - a bad mother.
Please follow your heart - this is what I whisper to you in the dark - follow your heart and do good. Do good for others, serve others, love others. This means yourself, too. In doing so, you will become a better person. I have learned this and am learning this lesson again and again. Partly by being - becoming - a mother have I learned it.
No, it isn't always easy. Maybe I don't wish for you an easy life after all. But it's worth it. So take risks, too. Follow your heart, your dreams, and take risks. Know that I will always, always love you. Don't live, or try to live, to please me or another, as so many people do. Live your own life, follow your own bliss, find your own way. I feel that so often, growing up and even now, I second guessed myself and stuttered and stopped doing what I thought I might want to, because I felt disapproval from others. Don't worry about that. I hope I don't make you feel that way. Go with it still, it will be alright. You can change the world. Sweet dreams, little one.
PS--Tanya, I can't wait to get that book, and thanks for the other book recs. I added them to my book list.
I don't remember most of my childhood. My parents separated when I was nine and before that I think things were just chaotic. We moved every eighteen months for new jobs, new homes, new opportunities that never seemed to pan out and then it was all too much and my mom and I were on our own.
I don't remember many specifics about my father or my mother. My dad played the guitar and was very funny. My mom was crafty and very pretty. They fought a lot and the eventual divorce was just a big relief.
I think I don't have many memories because everything was new all of the time. There was no yearly repetition of places or faces or rituals to sink into my memory. Holidays were in a different place every other year. School and friends were new every other year. I just don't remember a lot from one to nine. It bothers me some times, but as an only child and with my parents split, there's no one to really talk about old times with.
But I do remember my Holly Hobby wallpaper in one Florida bedroom--golden yellow and blue with a small cameo of Holly Hobby repeated over and over. I remember falling off a pool ladder when I was quite small and cutting my leg. Our neighbors Irish setter, who was so jolly and notoriously stole a roast beef right off our counter one day. (In the funky seventies, you could leave the back door wide open apparently.)
I remember the day the lizard got in our house and how my mom sent it flying with the broom and it landed right on me. I remember I got my little dog at Christmas time, and my mom had dressed her up in a little red and green vest with a bell that was very merry.
Funny, how in a piece about what I don't remember, it's a lot easier to talk about what I do remember.
I was a mistake. An accident. The rotten gleam in the eyes of a man who said he was sterile and who ran far and fast when my mother ended up pregnant. She was 17, stubborn, wild, a frequent runaway, and utterly unable to be a mother. She hid her pregnancy from her parents and moved to the mountains with her brother and his wife.
After moving around a lot, marrying, having another baby 15 months after I was born, getting beat by my brother’s father, and finally divorcing him, she ended up with the man I think of as my father. I was not quite three when they hooked up.
He did not care that she had two kinds under three and that she had enough baggage to fill cargo hold of a bus. He moved in with her-or did they move to a new place together?- and he stayed by her side until he died of Hepatitis C nearly three decades later. She did not deserve him, but in a strange way they deserved each other.
Somewhere between my mother’s childhood and her adolescence she became a drug user. Somewhere between the time she moved in with dad and I was six, she became a drug addict. They both were. Before the addiction, she was always abusive.
I have a theory, which can never be proved, that dad got her hooked on hard stuff because she was nicer to me when she was wasted. He wanted to marry her and adopt us but she wouldn’t say yes. So I think he was afraid she’d take us away from him. In his own drug-addled mind he was protecting us from her by keeping her wasted.
Somewhere, buried deep in a shoebox in my grandmother’s house (my mother’s mother) is a picture of me when I was about two. I was standing outside, wearing dark blue denim jeans and shirt, a red bandana, and, if you look closely, you can see the faded healing of a black eye. I don’t know why my grandmother took that picture or why she kept it, but she denies it ever existed now. I guess denial of her daughter’s atrocities was a survival mechanism. A way to pretend that she, herself, was a good mother and didn’t create the monster my mother was.
The last time I saw my mother was six years ago, at my father’s funeral. She and dad hid the fact that he had hepatitis C, contracted by sharing needles. I found out as I sat in the office of the funeral home, planning his funeral. They knew he was going to die yet they continued to party and live like the grasshopper from that old fable. They didn’t have enough money to pay for the service and cremation, so her parents, siblings, my husband and I pulled together to pay the funeral home.
Later, after the service, I went to her house and started sorting my dad’s paperwork-looking for insurance, bank accounts, anything. My mother never grew up. She didn’t know how to write a check or pay bills. She couldn’t keep or plan a budget or even cook something more complicated than scrambled eggs. I guess because she was so helpless she got used to not having to do things for herself. She got used to being coddled. As I sorted through the paperwork in their bedroom, she came in with a stack of condolence cards. She opened the first and found twenty dollars. The second had some money too. She started ripping open the cards, expecting to find cash, not bothering to read who it was from. She came across a couple that didn’t have money and she got angry. “Well thanks a lot. What am I supposed to do with a fucking card? I need CASH.”
Two weeks after the funeral she came out and admitted she had a boyfriend. She spent my whole childhood cheating on my father, so I think she had this boyfriend while he was still alive. He was a lovely young man my husband’s age, who is know around town for his bouts of anger and his ability to find whatever poison you want-for a price. She has lived with him in his parents house for years. In that time he has attacked and threatened my brother and verbally assaulted me. I don’t know what he has done to my mother. I haven’t spoken to her in two years, and just a few months ago I cut her out of my life completely.
Sometimes I miss having a mother for love and support, but really, I never had one to begin with. I know that I can be a better mother to my beautiful son if I don’t have my mother in my life. I mourn the loss of the mother I never had as if she is dead, and sometimes it hurts so much I don’t want to get out of bed. But I do. I get up and fix breakfast because there is a little boy who deserves to have the best mom he could dream of. It is my dream to be that mother for him.
I often wonder about my baby’s dad. She was conceived through anonymous donor insemination, so all I have is a number (3154), a set of characteristics and some very generic responses to standardized questionnaire. A) No I did not give sperm primarily for financial compensation, but in order to help the infertile couple B) I would be willing to meet any potential offspring if laws changed and this became possible. (which seems pretty unlikely at the moment).
When my partner and I started dreaming about getting pregnant, poring through online catalogues of potential donors was a fun, friendly exercise. Once we got past some initial squeamishness about the “genetic’ nature of what we were doing, it became something akin to choosing a name. We made lists, vetoed each others choices, tried to listen to our hearts, and grappled with the somewhat depressing practicalities of blood type and family medical history. Making our selection and sending in the order felt like our first concrete step on the long journey to finally becoming parents. Being a mother was something I dreamt about from at least the age of 15, and selecting #3154 and sending in our credit card info was a powerful first step in the process.
Trying to conceive, was, of course, not as easy as we had hoped. Two miscarriages plus two unsuccessful attempts equalled 8 months of heartache and we were strongly considering changing donors in an attempt to fix the one factor in our control when I got pregnant for good, at last.
I struggled with the idea of an anonymous donor on and off through the pregnancy, but we had tried earlier to pursue the known donor route with limited success (our one promising candidate turned us down). Mostly though, I bathed in the progesterone induced glow of a happy, healthy pregnancy. I was so happy to be pregnant, so high on hormones and so grateful to the donor for his small role in getting me there.
The moment my baby was born, in the water, in the dim, peaceful early morning darkness of our old house, I didn’t recognize her. She didn’t look anything like me this little stranger with the dark brown hair, big brown eyes and, large nose. Part of me wondered where she came from as I held her close and enjoyed the painful bliss of our first nursing. Mostly though I was so happy she was here, grateful for an easy birth and healthy baby.
She was in fact, a kind of funny looking baby and didn’t resemble any of the babies in my family, as my mom was only too quick to point out when she met her 48 hour old granddaughter for the first time. I kind of liked the fact that she was 100% herself and could not easily be compared to anyone in the family. Her own little person.
But as she has grown, and will now soon be turning five, I find myself often stopping and thinking about him, the donor who helped make her possible. Did she get her determination from him? Her anxiety? Her perfectionism? Her incredible intensity...she burns so brightly so much of the time and we are sometimes burned too, just by being near her. And I often think, too, of another mother somewhere. One who gave birth decades ago, held her little boy close and watched him grow into a man. Was he not able to sleep without physical contact for the first 18 months of his life? Did he cry when she left the room until he was 2 years old? Did he dazzle her with his sense of humour and keen observations about the world around him? Did his defiance drive her to despair at times? Does she still, sometimes, look into his beautiful brown eyes and feel her heart leave her body? Does she know that I am doing my best to raise her beautiful genetic granddaughter to be a wise, compassionate, caring person?
Her legs are so long now. As she lays beside me nursing, her feet lay up on my thighs. Sometimes I reach down and squeeze her little feet. She starts to unlatch, turns around, then she turns back to me. She's changed her mind. I stroke her sweet, soft cheek.
I love having her so close at night. Sometimes I just gaze at her sleeping, try to soak it all in. I know soon she'll be across the hall, ready to sleep on her own. But she needs me now, wants me now. I know so quickly she'll not be my baby anymore. Already she's toddling around, terrorizing my house. But at night, she is still. She is quiet, although she occassionally has a sweet, low snore. She no longer has to be on top of me, like her newborn days. She likes to have a little of her own space but she still enjoys turning around after nursing and snuggling next to me.
The little bit of lost sleep is worth this, the slight "disruption" definitely worth it. I always thought by now I'd want her in her own room but instead I find myself dreading that inevitability. She is my everything, my reason when nothing is right, when nothing makes sense.
Sometimes I have a hard time remembering before her. This makes me miss my baby in heaven, buried beneath the Kwanzaan cherry tree, the baby that her daddy makes sure to tell her about every night. I remember that I should have a 3 year old this spring, too but that wasn't to be. That baby will always be asleep.
“The children, they are just like little angels. It is just us, us grown-ups, who are disgusting sinners,” my friend, a Serbian Orthodox priest, once said to me. I don’t know for sure if I believe in angels, or even in God, but looking at my sleeping children, I do know he was right - they are as pure as they come. Pure in their explorations of the world, free from social conditioning, free from the burdens of adulthood. And I am sorry. I am sorry that I will not be able to shield them forever. I am sorry that they are growing up so fast, though amazed to see their every step outwards, onwards in their development. My children. They are just four and one years old. They are already four and one years old. Where has the time gone?
I am so grateful, and sometimes so scared. Scared that my decisions will leave the wrong marks on them. Scared to damage them. My beautiful, amazing, wonderful Kaya. My cheeky, gentle, sweet Sasha. I am hoping that they will always remain who they are, that they will always remain true to themselves, that they will never feel the need to betray their own principles. Suffering of any kind is something every good mother wants to avoid for their children, but as a human being I also know that this is impossible. Oh, how I wish that I could always protect you like I can now, at this point in your lives.
Who knew that a person could love so deeply, so fully, so totally? Who knew that love could make a person so powerful, and so humble, all at once? Who knew that everything else in life could become so absolutely irrelavant? Who knew?
The defeats in life are what scare me about your growing up. You won't only have small, manageable ones. But you'll encounter the large, scary, don't-know-how-to-handle-this kind of defeat. And I won't always be able to pick you up when you call out for me. I guess my job as a parent, as a mother, is to not just pick you up when I can, but to help you pick yourself up and keep going.
Keep going my son. The way you do when you see something new and shiny and potentially tasty. Because you're only 8 months old and the world is a giant playground full of wonder and adventure. You don't know how scared and lonely it can make you feel. But you shouldn't know that yet. And as much as I want you to never know that feeling, I know I can't, must not completely protect you from it. That would hurt you in ways I don't think I could forgive myself for.
You are my son. My only child. The most precious cargo I've ever held, carried. I want the best for you. Sometimes the best isn't good enough. My best won't always be good enough. But I love you. I promise I'll love you no matter whether it's your first crawl, first laugh, first food, first love, first kiss, first fight, first time really crying because your heart's been broken. As long as your spirit's never broken I think I'll have done my job. My job as your mother.
I love you even as you try to crawl under the desk and play with the surge protector. My baby boy is crawling.
His room is lit by a little nightlight shaped like a lava lamp. The colors change from a deep crimson to a cool blue to a cold white and then a soothing green before it goes back to crimson again. He’s had this light for several years and I am glad it gives enough brightness so I don’t step on a Lego.
I am more awake now, but still so, so tired. I thought this kind of tired would stop when he was no longer a baby. Ethan is on his belly, curled into a little ball and rocking back and forth, moaning. I sit on the edge of his bed and touch his back.
“What’s wrong, baby?” I ask, though I already know the answer.
“Owww…growing pain. My knee hurts.” He rolls over and shows me his right leg. I ask him if I can rub it for him. The nightlight is glowing white now and I see his tear streaked face. This one must be pretty bad.
“Do you want me to rub your leg?”
“Yes, please.” He is amazing and sweet even when he is in pain in the middle of the night.
“Okay, I’ll be right back.” I’m wide awake now, but still exhausted. I walk into the bathroom, switch on the light, squint at the sudden brightness and remind myself to get a nightlight for here too. I open our “medicine” drawer and root around. Calendula? No. Traumeel? No. Ah, here it is, the arnica gel. I grab it, put it on the counter and go back to the drawer. I find the little blue bottle of insanely small arnica ball things and twist five into the cap. When I get back to Ethan’s room I find that he’s curled into is rocking, pain management position again. I hand him a tissue and he blows his nose.
“Here, sweetie. Take these.” He tilts the arnica tablets under his tongue without question. “Lie down on your back.” He does. I pull up the leg of his green flannel pajamas and ask him where he wants me to rub. He guides my hand and sniffles “Right there, by my knee.”
“Yeah.” I squeeze some arnica on my fingers and rub it around to warm it before massaging it all over his knee and down his calf.
“Mom, I’m sorry I woke you up.” He mumbles. My heart tightens and I feel sadness that he feels the need to apologize.
“Don’t be, I always want you to wake me up if you need me. That’s what moms are for.”
“Okay. But I should be able to handle the pain.”
“Shh now. Would you like a song?” He nods his head. “Which one?”
“I don’t care. Norwegian Wood.” His voice is getting thick with sleep, my hand is getting tired from rubbing but I keep at it anyway.
I take a breath and start singing the song that used to calm him when he was a baby, and the familiar words sung in my familiar voice calm him now. My brain is on auto pilot now. I sing for a while and when I am sure he is asleep I stop rubbing his leg and cover him up. My back hurts from sitting in such an awkward position for so long and when I lean over to kiss my big boy’s forehead , it pops a little.
I get up, pad back to my room and look at the clock before I lie down. It is two thirty-seven. How long was I in there? I don’t know and I really don’t care. All that matters is that my eight year old knows my love doesn’t take a break at two in the morning.
I remember another hospital corridor, the bright lights, the pink granite floor, the strange overlapping smells of illness and the nurse’s microwave popcorn that were to become so familiar. I am walking towards your room where you, age 17, full of life and promise and energy, are undergoing the first of your chemotherapy treatments. The diagnosis: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
I remember sobbing in the back of dad’s car, crying so hard he pulled over so he could hold me, mourning all the life I thought you were going to lose, all things I had enjoyed in my 21 years that I hadn’t been able to share with you.
I also remember being 17 to your 13 and screaming at the top of my lungs ‘I wish you had never ever been born! I wish I never had a sister!’ I remembered that, oh how I remembered that, as I watched you lying in a hospital bed, pale and bruised and full of tubes.
I remember: playing Barbies, dressing up your cat, wrestling like puppies, holding hands: on the first day of school, at Hallowe’en, on Christmas morning. You were always there, a constant in our busy lives as daughters of divorce, shuttling between two very different households.
I remember wishing it would go on forever, clinging to each other and sobbing as I, 19 and you, 15 realized that I would be leaving home for university that fall and we wouldn’t have each other around for torment and companionship as much.
I remember all this and I am so grateful: that you survived your cancer and are now a healthy 32 year old with a happy, busy life; that you got to come and see and hold my newborn daughters soon after they were born; that you are now their favourite aunt, their adored playmate; and that I now have two daughters to watch grow together as sisters.
Every time I look at them, fighting, hugging, laughing, crying, I remember.
I suppose I am lucky that we didn’t have too many hard days before Madeline turned three. I had a glorious pregnancy. We experienced an idyllic infancy, maternity leave meant long naps with baby nestled on my chest in the well of my couch cushions. Age one to two just got more delightful and charming each day. Could this baby be any cuter? Two to three she became clever and good company and was so loving…those passionate baby kisses complete with chubby arms wrapped around my neck. So sweet I thought I’d explode sometimes.
And then, two weeks before her third birthday she
Or at least that was what my co-worker called it and it sounded like an accurate description of what was going on at our house.
Suddenly, Madeline had violent opinions about everything. She had powerful likes and dislikes. Precociously verbal, she spat out precise instructions at the top of her lungs like a tiny belligerent drill sergeant.
Nothing in our relationship had prepared me for this! My peaceful babe had turned into an angry little person and there was hell to pay if lunch was not served on her ladybug plate. Or if we ran out of apple juice. Or if I tried to redirect her from playing with steak knives.
Now my mother was ending a week long visit that had been punctuated by “screamin’ tantrums”, as Madeline called them. Mom’s flight was early the next morning, so we were driving to an airport hotel to spend the night, so we could drop her at the airport the next morning at 5 AM. I knew, deep down, that this was a bad idea—but it was one of those parenting situations where there didn’t seem a way around it at the time.
She kicked my seat and screamed for almost an hour on the parkway, in the pouring rain. My mom’s smile grew tighter and tighter. I contemplated pulling over to the shoulder, yanking open the door, and…and….well, I didn’t know what I would I do but the image of whipping open the door in a fury was satisfying. Instead, my mom and I ignored the tantrum and I kept driving and tried to keep my cool.
We made it to the hotel and checked in, had a quick and pleasant dinner at diner. Only to disintegrate at bedtime in a too small hotel room with nowhere to go. She didn’t want to go to sleep, she didn’t want to put on jammies, she didn’t want to turn out the light—even though we were all exhausted and sleeping in the same room. After 45 minutes of a screaming tantrum, the three of us trapped in the hotel room at 9:30 at night, it was over and she finally went to sleep.
5AM came too quickly, and as soon as we woke up it went downhill. I didn’t pack her “hoody” sweatshirt and now there was hell to pay. She was only half dressed in pants and no top. Screaming erupted. At 5am, in a hotel with paperthin walls. “Meet me in the lobby when you’re packed.” I said to my mom. I picked up Madeline’s tiny, furious body and grabbed my car keys. I ran with her out of the hotel room—but she wriggled out my arms in the hallway, screaming what my Irish granny would call “bloody murder” at the top of her lungs. I chased my half-naked child down the hall and grabbed her, wrestled her into the elevator, tore through the lobby and out to my car. Rain was still pouring down and I still had to force her into her car seat. Once we got out to the car I started screaming like the worst kind of mom—the kind that you see in the mall who make you think some people shouldn’t have kids. I don’t even remember what I screamed, but I know my fury, once I let go, was tremendous and horrible. I hate losing control. I pride myself on my patience. The fury had not been satisfying at all. I ended up crying in the front seat of my car once she was finally strapped in. Her screaming had subsided to choked sobs. She still had on no top. We still had to take my mom to the airport and then drive the 90 minutes back home.
I ran upstairs while my mom waited in the car and grabbed our overnight bag—we were late getting my mom to the airport now. Finally, my mom was dropped off and we were back on the parkway, headed home in miserable silence.
“Where's my purple pillow?” She sniffed.
My heart sunk. Purple pillow was her lovey, a purple chenille pillow from my bachelorette days. Cushy and soft, it was a great lovey. Comfy at home or on trips, and portable, still respectable looking. Purple pillow was wrapped up in the blankets of the bed we had slept in, 40 minutes back down the road at the Holiday Inn.
“Maybe they can send it to us in the mail.” I said quietly.
She accepted that, all tantrummed out.
Finally, we arrived home and collapsed into her bed. I slept for two hours and woke up and felt human. I laid there next to her for another 45 minutes, waiting for her wake up, enjoying the silence of no tantrum and the feel of her tiny body next to me, peaceful for now.
It was the worst day and that’s where it ended.
I thought he was cute. Cute enough to give him my number. He waited that Swingers-two-day waiting period to text me. I was a bad texter then. I texted him, albeit slowly, to call me so we could talk. He couldn't play the conversation game and all that chemistry at the bar flittered away on the phone. I ended the call. I said, forget it. There was another guy I wanted to go out with from work. Tall and blond, but there was just one problem: he wasn't into me. Bob was. At least his texts seem to indicate he was interested.
On St. Patrick's Day, Bob asked to see me, but I blew him off. I went to a different bar with a friend and gave my phone number to a different short, Italian guy who didn't call. I don't even remember that guy's name.
At some point, I said the hell with it. One date. I could do one date. What else was I doing? So we went out. On April 1st. Pizza and an improv show. I wasn't all that interested in what he had to say, but I knew he was a nice guy. I never thought I'd marry him. But two weeks later, we were at a parade celebrating our city's 150th anniversary. I love parades and usually went alone. I just looked up at him and something clicked. Maybe it was how he was dressed (in his always put together semi-designer clothes) or how he knew people marching in the parade. Or how he would introduce me as his girlfriend. Or how he was so effin' confident.
All I know now is that I married the right man. The best man. The only man who could put up with my crap. I'm no ball of sunshine in the morning. My skin breaks out, my highlights need to be touched up, I have post-baby mushy belly, I'm severely constipated, and bloated and I eat horribly. I forget things, important things, not so important things. I'm a shitty listener. I don't cook great. I hate Christmas. I rarely buy him the right birthday present. I waste too much money at Starbucks and I often take on projects I can't finish. I get overwhelmed and easily depressed. I make a lot of things about me, including this writing piece which is titled, "My baby's father."
We've been together five years, married for more than two. There is not another person I would bequeath the title of my baby's father to but Bob. The only man I will ever love and the only man who good enough to be B-O-B. Bob.
In the car, that's how we found out for certain, my midwife, on the phone. We were parked right in front of the building, where anyone coming out the double doors could see us. We cried and cried and grabbed onto each other in that way you do when you don't even feel like you are really holding on all the way. Then the numbness set in, the reality, the phone calls that had to be made that were too painful for me to make. I couldn't say it outloud to anyone yet, couldn't admit it. My husband breaks down on the phone. Was it mean to make him do it?
My baby, the baby still inside me, no longer had a tiny beating heart. It was still now.
I cried every night for weeks, clinging to my husband, his arms always around me. We stayed at my parent's, the place we drove to after the ultrasound. I couldn't go home yet. The last time I was there, as far as I knew I was having a baby. The books, the stretch mark cream, all those reminders laying around, torturing me. No way could I face them. My husband kindly removed the evidence before I went back home.
Then there was the waiting. When would my dead baby leave my body? The midwife couldn't tell me. After 6 hours of the most horrible pain I had ever experienced, like a vice grip around my uterus squeezing and so little time between each squeeze, 6 hours of unrelenting pain and still nothing. I remember feeling so, I can't even describe it, like I wanted to come out of my body, telling me husband to make it stop, make it stop, make it stop. We were up all night. And for what. I got about an hours sleep when the alarm went off. My mind said "need to go to work" and so I did.
We went to the clinic right after I dropped off my sophomore project I had worked so hard on. See, I thought, I can't give all this up. What future would our baby have if we did? The procedure itself was easy. It didn't really hurt, but there were tears. Many tears, that came much later.
he was a fling. some guy i met at work that I happened to think i was hot. i knew my feelings for him were different than that. i knew i really loved him but we had just gotten over some really traumatic events in each of our lives. i thought he would never forget her his ex. the woman that broke his heart and whom I knew I could never replace. we had been together for years doing this dance of yes, no, maybe... i am actually sure that had I not gotten pregnant we would not be together now. i was about to give up on the situation and move on with my life. i did not want to get hurt again and this "one night stand" had last three years too long.
i came home and cried while he taught his class that night. i knew i was pregnant, the little test with the three letter name told me so. he came home and i told him to sit down because we needed to talk, he thought i was going to tell him I cancelled the cable because i had been getting on to him about watching too much television.
this was not my plan, this was not what i wanted and i surely was not ready for it. but he calmed me down almost instantly in a way that only he has ever been able to do and all of a sudden it was all ok. i have never been someone who really allowed that to happen. someone else to have much control. but he did that night. he filled me with hope and dreams and flutters. we decided to leave all else behind and start our life together. i never thought i would see the day that we would actually get to that point but apparently we were and this new baby was getting us there. it seems that the love between us had been there.growing quietly.almost festering. and he was allowing himself to really touch it now. my baby's father, michael, did all the right things. at the right times. after 3 years of stumbling over himself... and did not look back.
trottin', pole dancing, Norway and Sweden lovin' , ,WOHM Kiddos born 12/11/06 and 08/09/08
with #3 EDD:01/2013 So in love with my sweet Swede and my bonus-son 10/25/98
was the single reason that i did not want to be a mother. if being a mother meant what i had been taught all of this time... that motherhood meant. i was not going to sign up for this. judgement. conditional love. self hatred. this was my mother. i was inferior because i was a girl. i should always know that. never good enough. never white enough. never thin enough. never smart enough. always angry. resentful. sad.
i knew because of her that motherhood was not in the cards for me. it was for the best. surely. i knew nothing of how to be supportive or kind. how to forgive or even truly love someone. thanks to her i dove into my career and become a young hot shot superstar. i understood money bought everything. even love. she was proud of my successes and ashamed of my failures. i told her what i knew she wanted to hear. i became almost psychopathic when talking to her. i had to or else i would become one for real.
when i actually got pregnant my mother actually was the reason that i researched everything and gave myself fully into parenting. i needed. i must not. i could not be like her. my kids deserved more. it is possible i should thank her. in her own way i am sure she loved me. but since i dont know that for a fact i just make sure that my kids do. a lot.
trottin', pole dancing, Norway and Sweden lovin' , ,WOHM Kiddos born 12/11/06 and 08/09/08
with #3 EDD:01/2013 So in love with my sweet Swede and my bonus-son 10/25/98
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