Sunday, May 24, 2009

Loving Because

Good mothers love despite.

From the first day we hold our children in our arms, we love them despite.

We love them despite their waking us in the night, again and again, until we are ill and crazed with sleeplessness.

We love them despite their crying for no obvious reason.

We love them despite their tendency to piss in our clothes and vomit in our hair.

We love them despite their lack of understanding of so many things that make the world work, like rules and laws and social conventions and polite replies and locks on doors and traffic lights and sidewalks.

We love them despite their all-too canny understanding of how to annoy and provoke us.

We love them despite their biting us, or hitting us with tiny fists. We love them despite tantrums. We love them despite broken picture frames, and broken dishes, and toys flung across a room. We love them despite their anger.

We love them despite their taking of our time and our attention. We love them despite their desire to have what they want right now. We love them despite their constant, constant need of us that brooks no respite and very little compromise. We love them despite their selfishness.

We love them despite.

This is the Mother Love, the instinctive love, the love that has the power to turn ordinary women into saints in the face of adversity and tigers in the face of danger. This is the love that halts a hand about to slap and mutes a voice about to scream more times than anyone who has not felt it could know.

It is not infallible. But it is incredibly powerful. It strengthens us. It shakes our sense of self, violently, and flips our concentration outward, giving us a sudden vision of the world as a place peopled by people who once were children like our own.

There is no other feeling quite like this feeling of loving our children despite.

But oh, to love them because is so much sweeter.

When my son was less than two years old, he once pushed his tiny way between two much larger children who were fighting viciously over a toy, and firmly held them apart, saying "Stop! Share!"

When he was two and a half, he once tried to put the falling autumn leaves back on the trees, scared that the trees might be sick.

He reaches out patiently, gently to touch animals, never pulling fur or tails, never chasing them just to chase something. Even cranky cats who hate children like him.

He thinks worms and spiders are cute.

He likes books.

He says hello and smiles to people we don't know in stores and restaurants, or on the street.

He'll play the piano for hours at a time, just trying out the sounds of different notes, making up songs. Sometimes I have to remind him to stop and eat. He's not a virtuoso. He can barely read music. He just likes to play. Sometimes his play songs sound like real songs these days, though.

He wants to know everything. Like where people came from. And where the Earth came from. And where the Sun came from and where the stars came from and where the universe came from. And what an electron is. And how nuclear fusion works.

I'd love this boy no matter whose child he was.

I always have loved, and I always will love my child despite. But as the years go by, I feel incredibly lucky and humbled to find I love him more and more because.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kids at Play

There has apparently been some controversy lately in a local suburb, a suburb right next to mine, in fact, over kids playing basketball in the street.

People complain that the sound of the ball hitting the street again and again is too noisy. They say the hoops are an eyesore, and degrade property values.

I can certainly empathize with the people who find the presence of kids playing outside to be annoying.

The neighborhood kids play soccer in my yard. It's a really good yard for soccer — no trees in the middle, great turf thanks to the zoysia.

I work from home every day, and the kids are noisy, especially in the summertime when they're out of school. Sometimes their laughter carries right through a closed window.

I'm an avid gardener, and I care about my property. And the kids broke one of my little solar lights once, and once they knocked over a potted plant and broke the pot and killed the plant.

So I bought a little garden fence to protect my lights, and my plants, from errant balls.

And I let the neighborhood kids keep playing soccer in my yard.

Sometimes, when their laughter distracts me from my work, I go outside and bring them lemonade.

From time to time, I kick the ball around myself.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Two weekends ago, my husband had a birthday. When he complained only half-jokingly about getting older, I said to him, "What? You're not a year older today. You're only a day older than you were yesterday."

I made a mental note to remind myself of this brilliant device in six short months when I earn the same number of birthday candles as my husband.

Last weekend my son turned five years old.

When he awoke on the morning of his birthday, he asked me, puzzled, "Why am I not bigger? I thought turning five meant I would be bigger." He stretched his arms wide, until his wrists poked out of his fleece pajamas, and he studied the length of his limbs. "I don't look any bigger."

"Having a birthday doesn't mean you're bigger exactly -- it means you're older," I said. "Turning five today just means it has been five years today since the day you were born. That doesn't mean you're any bigger than you were yesterday."

"Oh," he said, looking a little disappointed.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Every Day: My Story, Part II

This is part of the Mother's Day blog event to support Mother's Day Every Day, CARE, and the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood. See my previous post for Part I of my story.

There was no room at the hospital.

That is to say, at the hospital where I had signed up to have my baby, which was the only hospital anywhere near my home where the team of doctors I'd been going to throughout my pregnancy for prenatal care delivered, all of the labor and delivery rooms were full. All of the overflow rooms were full. As I struggled to fill out insurance paperwork (Thinking, more paperwork? I thought I'd preregistered so I would not have to fill out all of this paperwork while ACTUALLY IN LABOR) while breathing through contractions in a wheelchair, a hospital attendant cheerfully informed me that the softly lighted, softly-furnished, hotel-like private maternity ward rooms I'd seen on the hospital tour were not available, and that I would in fact be sent to a curtained-off corner of the decidedly NOT private pre-term labor evaluation room.

"We're just having so many Mother's Day babies," she beamed. "Now, please try to stay quiet during those contractions. We wouldn't want to scare any of the pre-term women who are in for evaluations!"

I am really, really amazed that this particular person has avoided being murdered by an enraged pregnant woman during her ignorant, condescending service as a maternity ward attendee. If I weren't such a peaceful, nonviolent -- all right, if I hadn't been in the middle of a stop-your-breath contraction at that very moment -- I might have ended her incredible streak of luck.

Later, in the pre-term delivery room, as I struggled to get comfortable on a barely-padded gurney, a nurse adjusted the baby monitor straps around my belly, and said, "Woah. Your contractions are really intense. Off the chart. They must hurt a lot. I'll tell the attending to call anaesthesia up soon so you can get your epidural."

"I'm not doing an epidural," I said, through clenched teeth. "I'm doing no-drugs, assuming everything goes well. It's in my birth plan. The one I submitted with my pre-registration. My doctor knows all about it."

"Oh. You are, are you?" She gave me a skeptical look. "Hmph. I wouldn't do it without drugs, myself. But you can always reconsider, dear." She patted my arm in a motherly way.

I was used to this attitude by now. Throughout my pregnancy, few doctors or nurses had taken me or my birth plans very seriously. I was 23, and apparently in this day and age of educated women waiting until 30 or 35 to have children, pregnancy at 23 is considered practically the equivalent of pregnancy at 17. If I'd had a nickel for every time someone had told me, "But you're so young!" I would have been able to pay for a doula to argue my birth plan for me.

"Well," the nurse continued,"Your regular doctor isn't coming today. She's not on call this weekend. You know, it's a holiday. Let's see . . . if we can get a hold of him, it will be . . . Dr. Z from your practice. But he's delivering at a hospital across town. We might have to get a resident."

Dr. Z was the one doctor of four who I had managed not to meet once during my entire pregnancy. I had been assured by my OB that one of the doctors I had met and discussed my delivery plans with would attend my birth. And now it turned out that even he might not even make it.

Just then, the resident assigned to attend me until "my" doctor who I had never met did or did not come, ducked her head into the curtain and barked, "Turn onto your left side and stay there. Don't get out of the bed."

"Um, why?" I asked. "The contractions hurt more when I'm on my side. I can handle them much more easily if I sit up a bit, like this."

"That baby monitor is old and it doesn't get a good reading unless you lay on your side."

"But, there's nothing wrong with the baby, right?" I said. "I mean, I haven't had any complications besides some pre-term labor symptoms, and the nurses say the baby's heartbeat is fine. Do I need to be on the monitor all the time?"

"Lay on your side!" the resident repeated. "If it hurts, we can get you some drugs." And she stalked out.

Great. This resident, who incidentally, didn't look much older than I was, and who had somehow managed to acquire the attitiude of some mid-twentieth century strap-em-to-the-bed-and-cut-that-baby-out stereotype straight out of a '70s Lamaze handbook despite being both young and female, MIGHT BE DELIVERING MY BABY.

"I do NOT want this person delivering our child," I said to my husband. He nodded and said something vague and supportive that I can't remember. His eyes had been glazed and saucery pretty much since we walked through the hospital door. Great, I thought. There's my advocate.

"You're not going to be one of those dads who passes out are you? You told me you weren't going to be one of those dads who passes out," I said.

"Of course I won't pass out," he said.

Suddenly, I really, really wanted my mother. She had scheduled a flight to arrive just before the baby's due date. But the baby was coming two weeks early.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. None of it was supposed to be this way. I didn't even want to give birth in a hospital -- I'd wanted to give birth in a birthing center, with a midwife. But there weren't any birthing centers in St. Louis. And at the time, midwives were illegal in Missouri. My own mother had broken the law by deliberately giving birth to me and my siblings at home, with an OLD-old-fashioned, still-makes-housecalls sort of doctor and a midwife who had teamed up and abetted her crimes. I might have considered doing the same, but not in our ridiculously cramped one-bedroom apartment in a building with paper-thin walls. Besides, I wanted serious medical support at my disposal if it became a necessity.

So I'd resigned myself to a hospital birth, but not to this -- not to giving birth practically strapped to a hard gurney in what was essentially a curtained-off hallway with condescending nurses shushing me so I wouldn't "scare" the other patients and a rude doctor who kept barking at me not to move (I was, incidentally, even at that moment ignoring her instructions to stay stiff on my side, which I was sure would piss her off, but I did not care).

My mother was supposed to be there. Or failing my mother, at least my sister, who was in town but was not answering her phone. None of my family were answering their phones. My husband's entire family was out at a party for Mother's Day.

"I want my mother," I said to no one in particular.

I knew I sounded now like the pathetic child the nurses thought I was. I didn't care. I was in pain. I was SUPPOSED to be in pain. I was SUPPOSED to be annoyed. I was giving birth, right? Weren't people supposed to be kind and accomodating to women in labor?

Eventually pain and instinct and the rhythm of labor took over my thoughts and pushed aside my fearing and wanting. I would have this baby, hallway or not, rude doctors or not. I would have the baby whether or not my husband ran away or passed out. I would have this baby if I had to walk out into the parking lot and catch him myself. It was ME having the baby, and not them, and everyone else was just there to help me if something went wrong, and if they failed to help me, so help me, I would COMMAND them to help me and they would listen because they would see in my eyes that I was capable of anything.

Eventually I got a fancy hotel-like room and I really barely noticed the room because the room didn't matter now; I was in a prison of my laboring body, but it wasn't a bad prison. I felt like I had the bright light of an interrogator in my face, and yet was laughing.

And then after twelve hours of labor, (or maybe it was really a month and a half) and NO drugs, thank you very little condescending nurse-lady, my son was born, just an hour and a half before the end of Mother's Day. And immediately after the cord was cut, the nurses snatched him up and took him away and I hadn't even seen his face. And I asked the doctor I didn't know (who HAD come, and had been blessedly competent, but practically silent), "Was it a boy? Like the ultrasound said?" and he said "Yes."

And I said, "What's wrong? Why did they take him away?"

And a nurse shouted over, "Nothing's wrong. He has an APGAR score of nine." Another nurse chimed in, "Oh, he's perfect. His face is perfect. Adorable. He has red hair! Red hair!" And suddenly I realized that the damned nurses who had treated me like an infant had now taken my baby who I had not yet even seen and were passing him around and calling in other nurses from the hallway, to show off his red hair. "Can I see this red hair?" I said. They ignored me.

As the doctor sewed up a minor tear, and the nurses cooed over my healthy baby, I pulled my cell phone out of the purse near my bed and called my mother, who finally answered her phone. "Happy Mother's Day," I said. "You have a grandson."

"He just had to make a dramatic entrance, didn't he?" my mother said approvingly. "Coming on Mother's Day. Well, he certainly is your child."

When I hung up the phone, I said, "GIVE ME MY BABY."

When they finally complied, I had to admit that the nurses were right about one thing. He was perfect.

As you can see from my story, I might actually have been more comfortable having my baby trapped in an elevator than in this particular overcrowded hospital. But that's because nothing went wrong during my son's birth. If something had, I would have been grateful for the presence of a doctor. Even the rude resident.

Many other women
are sadly not so lucky as I was. Please visit the Mother's Day Every Day site to learn how you can help women in developing countries get access to prenatal care, skilled midwives or doctors, and a safe, clean place to give birth.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Mother's Day Every Day: My Story, Part I

Over at, we're asking our readers to participate in a blog event for Mother's Day to promote Mother's Day Every Day, a campaign by the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and CARE to raise public awareness about maternal mortality worldwide.

Every minute, somewhere in the world, another woman dies due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth. But it doesn't have to be that way. Many of these deaths could be prevented with the most basic medical prenatal care, or with the assistance of a skilled midwife, nurse or doctor during delivery.

To help promote safe motherhood worldwide, MOMocrats is asking readers to share birth or adoption stories that have meaning to them in honor of Mother's Day, and link back to the Mother's Day Every Day site. For more information on this event, please read my post at MOMocrats.

This is part one of my contribution to Mother's Day Every Day. I'll be posting the second half of my birth story tomorrow.

Seven months into my pregnancy with my son, I started having contractions that were strong enough to stop me in my tracks. They would come every couple of hours, every day; at times they would wake me up at night. My doctor dismissed them at first, saying they were "just" Braxton-Hicks contractions -- practice for labor. But they didn't feel like "just" anything. They felt like someone was squeezing my entire midsection with iron bands.

Then one morning, at about seven and a half months, I woke up in the morning with contractions ten minutes apart. By the middle of the day, I was headed to the hospital for a pre-term labor evaluation.

Up until that point, during my entire pregnancy, I has been working more than 50 hours a week at two different jobs. Many mornings I walked to my full-time job, two miles from my house, and then stood or walked for much of the day. I worked for a small business that served customers in-person in a store at the front of the building while simultaneously running an international internet and telephone operation out of the stockroom in the back. As a low-level manager, I was expected to supervise employees, sell merchandise to people inside the store while simultaneously taking shipping orders over the phone, track orders that came in through the website, and answer company email. There wasn't much time to sit down and put my feet up. After eight hours of this, I sometimes walked to my second job another two miles away to stand for another three or four hours.

That's a lot of walking and standing for a pregnant woman, and in the weeks I'd been having contractions, I'd noticed that walking and standing for hours at a time made the contractions worse.

But working so much was what I felt I had to do. I had discovered that I was pregnant (Surprise!) one month after my husband had lost his job to a company bankruptcy so severe his last paycheck had bounced. Now he was working two part-time jobs while he looked for a new employer, and I was staying at a job I'd meant to quit, and working a second job to try to save enough money that we could move out of our one-bedroom apartment with the leaky sink and broken door to a place that looked something more like a home for a baby.

Now I was in the hospital, a month and a half pre-term, wheezing in pain every ten minutes, with a beeping monitor strapped to my belly, and a pleasant also-pregnant nurse beside me clucking wordlessly over printouts I did not understand. And guilt was choking me. Was I about to go into labor six weeks early because I hadn't been able to slow down and take care of myself -- take care of the child inside me, my child?

And that was when I started really talking to my unborn baby for the first time. "Stay in there," I said loudly, sternly, to my belly, ignoring passing doctors' odd stares. The baby started kicking in response to my voice. "This is your mother speaking," I continued, "and I am telling you, you need to stay inside. I know it's probably very boring stuck floating in the dark, and I know I've been working too much and I haven't been resting enough for you, and I'm sorry. But we're just not ready for you to come out yet. I haven't even gotten your crib. And I don't have any preemie clothes. I've only bought newborn outfits. If you come out today, you'll have to be naked. Naked! Naked and cold. Did I mention it's cold out here? And bright. Very bright. And it's loud. So you'd better just stay in there for a while yet. At least stay in there until I have your crib set up."

The contractions slowed over the next hour. After instructing me to drink half a gallon of water and rest, the hospital sent me home.

And my doctor told me to cut my work hours in half, start taking breaks at work every couple of hours, sit down whenever possible, stop climbing on ladders to retrieve merchandise, and stop carrying around heavy things. He also told me to lay down as much as possible while at home, and leave all my housework to my husband. I brought my doctor's instructions into my male employer, who somewhat reluctantly complied. He had never had a pregnant employee before.

("Why doesn't he want you climbing ladders anymore?" my boss asked, genuinely perplexed.

"Because I'm having contractions on a regular basis and might fall?" I replied. "And anyway, have you ever tried climbing a ladder with a baby strapped to your stomach? It's not an easy task."

"Well, I just hope everyone else doesn't start wanting a chair behind the counter," he grumbled as he brought in my new stool.)

The contractions never stopped, but they stayed half an hour to an hour apart, and I stayed out of labor.

Several weeks later, early in the morning on Mother's Day, two weeks before my due date, I spent the morning helping my husband finish the assembly of our new crib. Fierce contractions gripped me every 20 minutes or so, but I'd grown so used to them at that point that I continued working through them. I wasn't supposed to be lifting heavy things, but there were no restrictions on my use of screwdrivers, and my husband being rather infamously incapable of hanging curtains in a straight line (despite his uncannily good skill at wiring outlets, fixing broken computers and saving dead cell phones), I felt my oversight of this project was necessary.

Once we had the crib built and in the right spot, I felt a sudden, overwhelming, irresitable urge to buy a crib mattress cover. It was the one part of the crib bedding we didn't yet have, and I suddenly felt that not having one was a serious emergency. "We're going to Babies R Us now. I want the cover today," I said to my husband. It was not a request.

(Those experienced with childbirth will realize that this was the moment I should have realized that I was really in labor. But after a month of daily intense contractions, I had no idea.)

So my husband drove me to the baby store, and as I walked through the aisles snatching things that I suddenly realized I must have and have immediately with the all the deadly calm intensity of an Olympic sprinter, stopping every several minutes to double over in silence breathe through another painful contraction, other people in the store stopped to stare at the woman who was CLEARLY SHOPPING WHILE IN LABOR. When I got to the checkout, the woman behind the counter took one look at me and turned a sickly shade of imminent-insurance-disaster green.

"Are you . . . all right?" she asked me as I breathed Lamaze-style while calmly piling my purchases on the counter.

"I'm fine, thank you. And I also need this hairbrush," I said, practically tearing it from an endcap display.

And then I went home and calmly put all of the crib bedding together. The moment I had the crib assembled and ready, my contractions moved to five minutes apart.

My son always has had a habit of taking my instructions literally.