The kid, who could care less, it's all about the somersault.
Warning: PG-13 description of childbirth below. Clearly marked with an additional warning for any wussies who want to skip over it.
I already told you about not wanting to marry and how that changed. Here's Part 2.
I never wanted kids, which is odd because by nature I'm maternal and nurturing. Comfortable with babies and small children. Also the person adults come to for advice, solace, protection, love. My house was and is a haven for family and friends, with and without kids. I take care of everybody.
So why didn't I want kids of my own?
As with my fear of marrying, I caught on to the painful Inner Truth about motherhood too. My childhood had been so chaotic and painful, I was plain terrified of recreating that experience. Not of becoming an abuser. Of becoming a mother. The responsibility. The enormous possibilities for failure.
I don't like surprises, situations I can't control. I need to be in charge of my life, which means I must become an expert at everything I do. Becoming an instant expert at motherhood is an unattainable as becoming an instant rocket scientist.
Wait, at least rockets come with instruction manuals and are, until you activate them, inanimate. Babies, on the other hand... whoa. To this day I not only remember, but feel the panic, before and after becoming a mother.
But I'd found The One. He wanted kids. Intensely, deeply, passionately. The same way I wanted him. Except, here's the thing. Getting and staying pregnant isn't a trip to the beach in my family.
My mother and her mother had miscarriages and still births and finally, surgeries. I'd already had an ectopic pregnancy, not the greatest predictor of success.
But he wanted kids. And therefore, so did I. Even thought he wanted lots, he'd settle for just one.
So we started down the long, exhausting road trying to get pregnant. What karma ... I finally wanted to conceive a child and my body, reflecting my genetic history, refused to cooperate.
You'd think fertility specialists would be extra sensitive, understanding of the pain and fear. Not the case with our first one. She was a stone bitch. It was the early 80's, the specialty was just beginning, she was best of the best but more interested in the science than the people.
Adding insult to injury, she was pregnant. The old fashioned way. Which she took pains to tell us. A real stone bitch.
One illustration: I had to endure a test called a salpingogram ... dye is injected into the fallopian tubes and tracked with an x-ray to see if they're blocked or open. This took place on an x-ray table equipped with stirrups ... did I mention the dye is injected from the inside.
The stirrup end of the table faced the main door to the x-ray room. Seems counter-intuitive to patient privacy, don't you think? Anyway, the injection was painless but the dye caused a series of painful cramps. Really painful. My response, "OW! OW! OW!"
"Oh shush!" snapped the caring doctor, "it's not that bad." I looked at her in disbelief. "Hmm, this isn't right," was her next remark. "We'll have to do it again."
I was sweating, panting, looking at her in horror. "What's wrong?? I thought it's only one injection," I said through teeth gritted in fear and pain. "Why do I need another one?" No reply. Panic rising, I was certain I was doomed to some fate worse than infertility.
Guess what? The x-ray machine wasn't working. After the FOURTH injection I was in agony and she was pissed at me, the machine and the x-ray tech. I lay there crying, legs numb after all that time in the stirrups.
Suddenly the door swung wide open to the bustling outer corridor and a hospital maintenance man walked in. Hello? Oh sure, he took a good long look before asking Dr. Mengele what was the problem.
That did it.
I sat up, pulled my gown down around me and said to her, " Bitch. You. Will. Never. Touch. Me. Again." And walked (actually wobbled) out.
I found a doctor who cared as much about me as he did about the science.
Still, shots, pills, procedures. Hopes, expectations, disappointments. Loss after loss. After loss. A year. Going on two. We got married, continued the quest.
Then, finally, finally, the miracle. Pregnant. For sure. And, after virtually holding our breaths almost 4 months, the icing on the cake... safe, secure, healthy as a horse.
A family back story: on her father's 50th birthday my mother announced she was pregnant with his first grandchild -- me. On my mother's 60th birthday, I gave her the same news.
Me at my mother's birthday party. See one of my sisters looking at my stomach? I don't know how she knew, I hadn't told and I wasn't showing at all yet.
After all the preceding commotion, I had a super easy pregnancy. No sickness, filled with energy, I continued running, working out and teaching my popular step and yoga classes, only gained 14 pounds. Go ahead, hate me.
In late December I had my regular OB check up. Routine. Nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the doctor said, it appeared we'd miscalculated. This baby wasn't coming for at least three weeks, maybe longer.
If you've given birth, or are married to someone who has, you already know what's coming next.
We went to dinner that night with friends. My back was hurting, but my back had been hurting for weeks. Standing on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, I suddenly realized my jeans were wet. WTF? How could I pee myself and not notice? Yeah, my water had broken. And my back was really hurting.
!WARNING: CHILDBIRTH AHEAD!
In the car on the way to the hospital, I had my jeans down to my ankles, feet on the dashboard, hands ready to catch the baby. I could already feel his head.
Into the ER, onto a gurney, IV inserted, Husband whisked away to fill out health insurance forms, my hands reaching out for him to stay. "But I can feel the baby coming!"
"Now just relax, Mom," (I hate when they call you 'Mom.') "This is your first, it's gonna take much longer than you think. We'll get you up to Labor and Delivery and make you comfortable." The voice was soothing, but smug. A doctor smirked nearby. My confidence took a nose dive. And my anger hit the freakin ceiling.
Because finally (and I swear this is true), the first real contraction. I sat almost fully up, then dropped back down fast, afraid I'd crush the baby's neck. I could feel his whole head against my thighs.
I surely entertained the entire ER when I screamed at the inattentive know-it-alls, "LOOK BETWEEN MY LEGS YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!"
Sheet up, sheet down. Shocked faces. Gurney spun, wheeled fast into a trauma room, calls for help, yelled instructions. Here's my favorite, "Close your legs and squeeze them tight!" Brilliant. Thank god I didn't listen.
A Doogie Howser doctor hustled in self-importantly, lifted the sheet, said my next favorite words, "Oh my god, it's crowning! What do I do now?!? ANN! Help!"
This can't be happening, I thought. I'm in hell.
But I had one suggestion, "CATCH HIM, YOU FUCKING MORON! DON'T YOU DARE DROP HIM!"
A new voice, calm, poised, instantly reassuring. "Glove up, Doctor. Slide your hand under the head--Gently!-- turn the baby slightly up, clockwise, just see the shoulder ... good, good, now wait for the next contraction. Mom will push and help you."
My whole body relaxed, Ann, whoever she was, had things under control. "Okay, Ann," I thought, "you can call me 'Mom.'"
Nature took its course and three --yeah, count 'em-- three more pushes brought my 7 pound, 11 ounce son into the world just after midnight. Ann, my Special Angel held him up for me to see in all his slimy beauty. The first-time doctor was collapsed on a chair, head between his knees, trying not to puke.
Husband missed the whole thing. To his everlasting relief. By the time he got there, our son was cleaned up, lying in an Isolette being examined by several doctors. I was blissfully unaware why. Husband gently kissed me, walked over to look in awe at his newborn son, reached to stroke his cheek.
The Worst Days
"NO!" someone yelled, "Don't touch him! Don't touch her either." Well, crap. How many WTF's can there be??
The baby and I both had fevers. Our white counts were elevated. Infection. Cause unknown. Off we went to an isolation room, monitors beeping, medical staff coming and going, swathed from head to toe. We could only see their eyes, showing mostly kindness. And pity. Which made it worse.
They gave my husband clean scrubs to wear. And a cot so he could stay in my room. They kept taking blood. A lot. Really, how much did they need?? Mine from my arm, our son's from his foot.
My OB showed up with a neonatologist. Recommended the baby and I have Lumbar Punctures. AKA Spinal Taps. A mean freakin needle stuck into your lower spine to tap the spinal cord fluid, search for infection. I'd already had two in my life. My recent childbirth was less painful.
One good thing: they promised the baby wouldn't feel a thing. Oddly, neither did I. My soul was so alive with the pain of fear, dread, horror, guilt -- no needle could have topped that. Why me? It had to be my fault! What had I done wrong?
Oh, I forgot to mention, the baby was also allergic to my milk. A side issue, not connected. But another WTF. They pumped mine, took it anyway, did something to it, injected his tiny IV with whatever immune system boosters they could salvage. They hoped.
So we waited. In a hospital room. Not telling anybody. Wrapped in a cocoon of part denial, part unadulterated terror. Four. Excruciating. Days. We could only touch our son through the PICU Isolette. With gloved hands. It was torture. He was so wanted, so beautiful, so loved.
Baby Makes Three
December 31, 1983. Late afternoon. Both doctors entered the room. They were smiling, big wide grins. Oh. Thank. God.
The neonatologist opened the Isolette, removed the baby's IV, turned off the monitor. Watching, I'm not sure my husband and I were breathing.
He picked up the baby and plopped him in my arms. "You're both fine. Perfectly healthy. Congratulations. Go home. Enjoy your son. "
"What was wrong with us?" I asked, eyes on the bundle in my arms for the first time, not really listening. A long pause. Too long. I look up. "What?"
"Turns out the IV they gave you in the ER was expired, a little contaminated. It's gone from your systems now." Their faces had become a bit wary.
One final WTF. A serious mistake, liability, responsibility. Lawsuit? Husband and I looked at each other, at the doctors, at our son. And said with one voice, "Naaa."
We took him home. I sat in the back seat of the car, holding this tiny bundle upright in the car seat. Thinking, oh shit, what do I do now? Nobody had shown me anything, taught me how to feed him, change him, given me time to get used to handling him.
My mother, you should know, is not the baby type. Or anyway, was not the baby type. She'd told us that happy as she was to have a new grandchild, we shouldn't expect her to baby sit or pick up any slack. She'd had her turn. Now it was ours.
I called her as soon as we got in the door. She was there in 10 minutes. Took him in her arms and that was that. I don't think I got to hold him again for almost a week. Between her there all day every day and Husband insisting on doing the night time feedings, I never had a chance.
Our son is named for her father (my PopPop) and my husband's grandfather. But it goes deeper than that. They both fell in love with him, instantly, completely, with all their hearts.
My husband took to fatherhood as if born to it. His love for our son was total, instinctive, unconditional.
I felt love for him, I was so grateful to have him after so much strum and drang. He's literally my Gift from God. I say that all the time, to this day. But back then, I didn't experience the overwhelming, overpowering joy you're supposed to feel for your baby, your child.
It would take me almost three years to get there. I was a loving mother, don't get me wrong. And a good one. It was easy. He was such a good baby, happy, content, slept through the night at 6 weeks. Was all smiles and giggles, rarely cried. As he grew, still a Happy Camper.
And from early on, a ladies man.
He was, and is, mighty good-looking. Even-tempered. Bright. Curious. And loving. Cuddly, loved to get in bed with us in the mornings, sit on laps, give hugs and kisses. Independent too. Happy to hang out with us, play with friends or on his own. What's not to love?
Me seemingly comfortable and at ease as a Mom.
Still I worried. My sisters had children, I'd watched them coo with total devotion over their infants. What kind of monster was I that I could do it, but didn't feel anything?
The Moment of Truth
It's so prosaic really. Right around his 3rd birthday we were sitting in his room reading a book together. He was in my lap. I bent my head to smell his hair. He snuggled into me, sighed with contentment.
And just like that, I fell in love. Blindly, helplessly, hopelessly in love. This child, this wonder of a human being, this living symbol of his parent's love, suddenly and totally owned my heart.
We formed a bond that it lasts to this day. In a good, solid, mother-son way. We love, trust, confide in each other. He's still independent, confident, happy. And I know it has a lot to do with how much he knows he's loved.
I love him retroactively now too. A lump forms in my throat, my eyes still fill as I remember all the days and nights, but especially that first night home as a mother, holding my newborn son, my husband next to me, encircling us both with his arms. And his love.
The first --and still the best-- night of the rest of my life.