I’ve been a blogger now for almost ten years. Scary. I started when my eldest was two and now she is approaching thirteen, her sister close behind headed to eleven. When the girls were little, blogging was an avenue of creative exploration and written release. Motherhood was not an easy start with a colicky baby and nineteen months later another baby. I was suffocating under the weight of raising two under two. Blogging was my release, my escape, my respite from diapers and domesticity. In the beginning, I wrote specifically about motherhood but began to branch out into wider subjects. Motherhood became a side note to my writing. It informed it and it altered it sometimes, but I found myself outside of motherhood in the words of my blog. I shared my struggles not only as a mother, but as a human. One day when I slogging through potty training, I posted a picture of my daughter on the potty singing. I never actually posted it because something inside my body understood something I was slow to grasp. Did I have the right to post this picture of her? Yes, I was her mother but would she really want this picture out there in the world when she was eleven or thirty? Probably not. In that moment, it made me think about the difference of me growing up without social media and my kids who know exactly how to smile or pose for a picture because pictures are the way we document things. Listen, I’m not on any kind of high horse here. I post pictures of my kids all the time, however, I’ve learned to ask them before doing so. It is not my job to tell their stories, it is their job.
When my eldest daughter graduated elementary school, her gift was a phone. The first thing she asked for was Instagram. This daughter of mine has big dreams of being a photographer and like myself, gets lost in the magic of photos. I agreed. I quickly realized I handed over the power, pleasure, and pain of social media. My younger daughter, quickly asked for Instagram as well. It was not longer okay for me to put them out to the world, as they were telling their own story. When one of my daughter’s painting was displayed at City Hall, it was not my job to celebrate that, as much as I wanted to, because she did not want that out there. She wasn’t embarrassed by any means, but just didn’t understand why everyone needed to know that. Rather than taking a picture of one painting, she decided to create a second Instagram account, dedicated solely to her art.
I’m not going to lie, this transition, like all of these tween transitions, is hard. Letting go of control, whether something small or big, is difficult. Handing that control over to tweens is even harder. I’m always riding on blind faith and hope in the unseen. What is harder though, is to deny them the right to tell their own story. This stage of motherhood is about give and take. I’m giving them the opportunity to explore, fail, and succeed and they are taking it. They are not only taking it, but they are telling the world who they are and I could not be more proud of the intelligent, compassionate, driven, and creative souls they’ve become. The more I give, the more they show me that they can take whatever comes their way. Giving them independence and autonomy is a loud message that I trust them completely. I’m a firm believer if I let them test out their wings now, they’ll be ready to fly when the time comes.
sunday nights and you lock yourself in your bathroom. the bathroom that is half painted from it’s renovation months ago that you swear one of you will get around to one day. you lock the door and light two tea candles and turn the water temperature way up. not the luke warm water when your nine month old is splashing in the tub with you. her name means “from the woods” but it should be from the water because of the way she easily took to the tub. from the start in her baby tub you filled at the kitchen sink, she slid into the water and her body relaxed effortlessly.
the water is hot. burning almost. and the lights are off. the winters moon shining outside on the snow that has fallen. every school aged child wishing for the first snow day of the winter. and you get in the tub and your shoulders fall and the steam is rising off your legs and you notice you still haven’t painted your toenails. chipped paint the past two months.
in the water and you picture all of the germs washing off of your body. the snot. the croupy cough. the hot breath sticky with fever. the viruses that encompass your being because they need you. just the way you needed your parents the other night when your son woke up and couldn’t catch his breath from his coughing and your husband was night fishing, so you called your mom. you still need your mom. just like they need you. when your daughter tries to nurse but her nose is completely blocked and she falls asleep on you sitting up and you try not to move, even though your neck is cramping and you swear you won’t be able to function the next day because once again, no sleep, but you’ll do anything for her to get some sleep of her own.
four years of marriage and two babies later and it seems the lowest times and the most trying times of our relationship is when there is a prescription waiting to be picked up at the pharmacy. “who is going to pick up the prescription”. and the lysol wipes. and more vitamin c. and some kind of magic oil blend to diffuse through our little house so these little people can breathe through their noses.
winter- and gray and everyone says “it’s that time of year” and we’re exhausted and yet still full of love. this is the truest feeling, the realest of them all. the times of motherhood that aren’t discussed. the sitting on the couch with your husband and a sleeping baby on your lap and you look at him and say “I miss you” even when he is right there.
and after the four year old is asleep. and finally the baby is propped up in her crib. the two of you crawl under the covers and he curls against you and wraps his arms around you and your ankle presses against his calf and for a solid two hours you sleep soundly. just as you had before all those nights just the two of you. you still need him. and he needs you too. and the four of you will get through winter.
There is something of the fish tale in birth stories. Women in labor can be unreliable witnesses: minutiae make big impressions, big things pass by unnoticed. Even if women in labor were the most objective chroniclers, people still wouldn’t listen. In our culture, there’s an undercurrent of mistrust in women’s testimony—from doubting rape victims to steamrolling women in business meetings.
I felt this keenly during my first son’s birth. Story-wise it wasn’t even that interesting: a labor and delivery nurse made fun of my name while I pushed, a doctor game me a vaginal exam with one hand while holding a Starbucks cup with the other. If anything, it needs exaggeration. It needs to become a really big fish.
What I would like is a world where women felt less monitored, unconcerned with being dubbed liars, freer to exaggerate, to let it rip, while we all sat around and listened, moony-eyed as stories emerged, made great by bending the facts to fit.
It is possible I feel this way because the story of my own birth is a whopper of epic proportions. My mother didn’t lie. It was a damn doozy.
It was February in Dallas, Texas. My mother was a week past her due date. It showed as she unloaded groceries in her driveway. A man approached her. It took her a moment to see the knife. When she did, her panic was complete, incoherent. “Who are you?” she demanded, but he didn’t reply, just kept advancing, so she took the brand-new O’Cedar mop she’d just bought and beat him over the head. Maybe he realized she was pregnant, maybe she was getting the best of him with that mop, either way, he changed tactics, begging, “Lady, please just give me your purse!”
My mother was stunned. Her purse? So simple! She threw it to him. He fled. After shelving the groceries, she realized she should probably call the police. They came, along with a few concerned friends. She told and retold the story to clucks and dismay, until, eventually everyone left. Alone she prepared for motherhood, my father long gone.
Alone she ate ice cream, watching a soap opera. Alone her water broke.
Check-in was a nightmare: her ID card and insurance cards, all thrown to the man with the knife. When she told the nurses she wanted a natural birth, they laughed; she hadn’t yet had a contraction. Start walking, they said. So she did. She walked and walked and walked.
My mother was not well-prepared for natural childbirth. Her birthing teacher said it’d be the greatest pain ever experienced, worse than dropping a bottle of orange juice on your foot. The teacher’s main concern was ensuring my name was numerologically fortuitous.
Her labor coaches were friends, a couple who’d become my god-parents. The nurses assumed Bill, my godfather, was my actual father, and they were in a fury when he kept leaving to see his “girlfriend” in the hallway. They whispered in gossipy horror, but my mother, who finally submitted to Pitocin, was in heavy labor, unable to explain.
Meanwhile, my grandmother, who was very drunk and had a low, gravelly voice, kept calling the hospital, demanding updates. The nurses assumed she was a man, asked my mother’s permission to release information to her father. My mother’s father had been dead for fifteen years. “Sure,” my mother cried between contractions, “if he found a way to call, tell him whatever you want.”
My mother’s labor progressed. She believes she was given an epidural, against her wishes, and without relief. The main problem was she’d now gone forty-eight hours without food or water. Ice chips, they finally relented. She got a stingy cache of ice chips. What she wanted, desperately, was a shower.
“By the time you were born,” she said, “I hated you.” Bill held me first. The nurses cooed, “She looks just like you.”
Just then, a local talent agent named Ivette Stone burst in wearing a fox fur coat. How she had flouted security was a mystery, but she’d come with a contract, determined to sign me at birth. My father was an actor and my mother was very beautiful; Ivette felt certain I was destined to be a child star. My mother signed the contract, mostly so she’d leave. Finally she did, followed by my godparents. Soon even the nurses stopped fussing. She was alone with me and it was perfect. Every mother knows that singular perfection: those first moments alone with a newborn child. Nothing compares.
My mother and I both developed fevers from the long delivery and stayed in the hospital for several days. One of my mother’s dearest friends visited, along with his somewhat catty boyfriend, who asked why my mother still looked pregnant. My mother slapped him. “I had never slapped anyone before,” she said, “and I have never since. But I slapped him, and the look on his face was pure shock. It was worth it.”
I’m not interested at all in how my birth actually happened. Did Ivette Stone really burst in moments after I left the birth canal, contract in hand? Did my mother’s friend’s boyfriend really speak so thoughtlessly, and if so, how did he say it close enough to my mother’s bedside that her slapping palm could reach his face? I don’t care. I don’t even care whether or not my mother had an epidural, a failed one. What I care is how it all seemed to my mother. What that day was like for her.
I would give her a check-book filled with blank lies, if it would help her explain that day, tell me how she became my mother in that chaotic, hilarious, sad, brutal world. I revel in the stories of my mother, of all women: their birth stories, their fish stories, their perfectly unreliable testimonies. They seem precious to me, and I have never understood why others just toss them aside, unconcerned with their value, as though gold were just many dirty yellow rocks.
Healing comes with time, but is mostly hard work, Mama