My mother and I share a common bond; one that just came to my consciousness like a tidal wave and woke me from my slumber not one hour ago. I knew of the commonality, but not of its nuances and of what it meant. Maybe it means nothing; maybe a cigar is just a cigar.
We both had a child born on April 21 when we were both 31.
My oldest son, Thing 1 is 15 today. He was due on 4/18/98 but decided to make my life uncomfortable for an extra two days and then completely uncomfortable for another 30 hours.
I, being a first-time mom, was in no rush to speed things along and increase the crazy in my life any sooner than necessary, so I was sort of grateful for the reprieve. At 11pm on April 19, though, things really started moving along and my labor went into “we’re going to have a baby soon” mode.
The thing is, my labors have (as I’ve learned twice later) a penchant for just … y’know, stopping whenever they felt like it. I was sent home and then six hours later, I went back.
While having a baby to a layperson, a first-time mom or anyone else is sort of a thing that happens every day and we don’t hear about too many things going wrong in the process, I was of the “ok, this’ll happen when it happens” mindset. I was totally uncomfortable, but I didn’t think anything would really go wrong. I loved my obstetrician, I loved the staff, I was ready for my son to be born, my husband was a rock (a nervous rock at the time, but a rock nonetheless) and all indications were, all along (minus a blip due to my ignorance on a CVS test) from day 1 of my realization that I was pregnant to sonograms to glucose tests to labor, false labor and then labor again: going to have a healthy son.
The labor was exhausting. At 4pm on 4/20 We did cytotek to speed things along. No.
At 9pm on 4/20 we did pitocin to speed thing along. No.
All along we did walking around to speed things along. No.
At 11:10 we broke my water to speed things along. That did the trick.
It all worked out. At 12:06, my son was born. He was big: 8#; he was robust: 20.5″ long; his head was enormous; he was beautiful. He was quiet. Eerily so. Uncomfortably so.
There was a little managed panic, a change in the atmosphere when he was taken out. They let me see him for a moment and then they whisked him away. They put him in a little clear bed. They had to clean him off. I didn’t care about any mess; but I was also a little out of it. It was a wild ride and I was depleted physically. Despite my interest in him, I just wanted sleep. I was not one of those blushing fantastically enthusiastic mothers whose milk starts to flow the moment her baby’s cry is heard. Maybe that’s because he was so quiet. I asked what was wrong and they concentrated on him. He was breathing. His color was good. His eyes were open. Ten fingers, ten toes. Pulse, ox, everything was good. He was quiet. His eyes still very wide were open.
“It was those eyes, I’d seen them before, so many times,” his father said. Dan followed him everywhere in that room; “Don’t let him out of your sight!” I said to him. I said that to him about all our babies. Things were fine as it turns out, he was just really mellow and observant and scored 100s on all his APGARs, so I know he’ll get into Harvard.
I didn’t know the time. It was after midnight, I was aware of that. I was conscious of a fact though, a reality. I was aware of the date and of its significance: April 21. “He held out for the 21st, mom,” I remember saying to her, thinking of my brother. I wonder about that coincidence, and how it affects her and my father.
Thirty-three years earlier, my mother gave birth to my frère Jacques. My brother John. Her second son. I never met him. She never met him; he also was whisked away right after his birth. On April 24, 1965, my brother John died.
I see my blinking cursor on my computer monitor here. The awaiting cursor. It’s a prompt in itself. An annoying thing to me at the moment.
Words fail. She never met him; she never saw him. She has shared reports from my father that he was “beautiful.” There are parts of me that want to believe that; that he was healthy and gorgeous and full and fantastic. The truth of the matter is that I will never know. I know of no pictures. When my mother was 5 months along with him, she started to bleed. She said she was pushing a stroller with my oldest brother in it and she knew something was different. She was on bed rest after that. She was on bed rest until April 21, 1965, when she went in to have her second son. I believe the condition was placental abruption, when (parts of?) the placenta disconnects prematurely from the uterus.
It was 1965; it was nothing like today: there was no sonogram, no way of seeing inside her, no 3D imagery of her uterine wall. The effects of placental abruption can be devastating to the mother and her unborn child. The placenta is what feeds and nourishes the unborn child.
I will admit that despite the fact that my son was born completely fine, functioning and all that, that I was very nervous until after three days had passed. My milk came in and I didn’t know it; we went on our postpartum appointment and he wasn’t eating; apparently my breasts were as big as sourdough loaves and harder than bricks; the poor little guy couldn’t get any fuel. Once we rectified that, he was a little overwhelmed. It all worked out though because my sister-in-law sent me a doula and that changed everything.
I wonder about the timing, for my parents. A bittersweet birthdate for them; the arrival of my son, the “closure” (maybe? – that’s theirs) of life’s circle. They don’t talk about it much; of course I am full of questions, but it’s not mine. They gave him “St. Raphael” as his middle name. St. Raphael is the patron saint of travelers. Raphael means “God has healed.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
I recently started therapy again. There’s stuff going on internally that are stirring up other old deep wounds I need to address and I’m glad, frankly, of the opportunity to work on them.
I said in therapy the other day, that I’d often considered my mother weak due to her choices and behaviors; I grew up not appreciating the value of her softness and her simple kindnesses. I grew up devaluing sensitivity and vulnerability and learned to place great importance on toughness and strength and resilience.
What I realized last night, when I was drifting off to sleep, was that her strength is private but so obvious, so she doesn’t wear it like a badge; in fact she doesn’t wear it at all.
Around the time when/after John was born, her obstetrician wanted to sterilize her. She refused.
Two years and some months later, I was born. The doctor wanted to sterilize her after that. From what I understand, while she was being wheeled into the delivery room and about to be put under for a c-section, that she grabbed the guy by his lapels and told him that he had no permission whatsoever to touch her other than to give me life.
Sigh. I am her “strength” in human form. She has said things like that to me, that I’m super important to her; I didn’t get that until *right now.*
There’s a lot there. My mother had guts. There’s a lot there. This explains so much. Why I have been / what I have represented unconsciously to my mother, perhaps my father as well. Processing… not for here.
So, four years and some months after that, she had my younger brother. She wanted a family. She was 37. She was a rebel. My younger brother is fine, almost normal (no, he’s totally normal, he’s just a brilliant nut). She was ready to be done then, but she still did not allow a hysterectomy. I had my third son when I was 37 too. I also had my second son at 33, the same age she was when she had me. I did not plan that; I planned their births, absolutely, but not to be in time with my mother. At that time, I wanted no similarities between myself and my mother.
I have Work to do on myself and my perceptions of strength and courage and guts and determination. No one is perfect. I’m writing a memoir, first-person, true, and all that. I don’t think I’ll ever publish it; but it’s important for me to write these things as a testament to my own recollections. My life before my own children was completely different from the life I live now.
Before them, I was lost, truth be told. I was confused and so very angry. Before them, I drank too much, I was irrational. I was responsible but super sharp and intense; brutally honest.
Having a child made me tone that all down or eliminate it completely.
But on days like today, on April 21, I can’t but think about my Frère Jacques. I know he is sleeping. Church bells are ringing.
I admit while I think about John a lot at times, I can understand why now. It seems “duh!” to many people of course, but my private thoughts are percolating and I won’t share them here.
I try not to think too hard about John on this day. After all, today is my son’s day. I don’t want to freak him out and make him any more self-conscious than he already is at 15.
Happy birthday to my beautiful son.