the labor pains that never really end
back in the day when my belly was on the rise, and my doctor gave me choices, i signed up for the labor plan in which no drugs were involved.
i wanted to take it head on, surge through, make like the rest of the mammals and feel the pain.
i imagined it pure, somehow. undiluted.
didn’t realize, quite, that i’d signed onto that plan for life.
oh, i weathered it all right back in that birthing room, rode the tidal waves of contraction to the point that i imagined myself on a ledge, and wondered if at any second i might teeter off, go plunging to the lanes of traffic far below.
ah, but then the end came. the part where squeezing stops and pushing takes over, the part where the doctor aptly diagnosed, “looks like an irish head,” and my jewish husband asked, “whaddoes that mean?”
and before the first push, at the brink of discovery, i hollered out, “it means it’s gonna HURT!”
and, i suppose it did.
but that hurt like no other hurt gave way to miracle. gave way to pool-blue eyes that looked at me, studied me, as if to say, oh, so you’re the one.
gave way to thighs, rich and pudgy and layered with hallelujah fat. (i’d convinced myself, somehow, that i would grow a babe of merely flesh and bones. ahem. not that i’ve cooked up a stewpot of worries ever since conception…)
i remember my arms reaching out to take that just-born child, my fingers hungry, reaching as they’d never reached before, to pull him in, to harbor him against my chest, against my heart, to seal forever the envelope that would keep us one heart against the other, that would surround him forever in a cocoon of infinite love. love that always was and always will be.
i remember being wheeled from the room where he was born, down the hall and up one floor, to the room where i would come to know him, to study him, to memorize the dips and planes of his whole blessed body. to baptize him in the tears that came that night, that did not end, not until i had anointed him, bald head to baby toe, in the salty wash of a mother’s hope-give-way-to-ever-after-love.
back then, no one explained to me how those labor pains don’t really end. oh they subside, retrench, slither back into the corners.
but, your whole life long, when you’re a mother, you’re at risk of nearly writhing again. that ledge, where once you teetered, you remember it.
when you sign on–or at least when i did–you sign an everlasting contract.
you are, for the rest of your life, right there in the trenches, one step ahead of your child’s heart. it’s you–your flesh, your blood, your bones–that stands between you and the tip of the sword that flails toward your child.
or at least that’s the way it is for me.
all week this week, i’ve ached and held my breath. watched the boy i love so very much weather curves and setbacks.
the other night, when the clock ticking on the kitchen wall, ticked straight up to 1 a.m., all i yearned for was a bed. but right beside me sat a boy who ached from head to toe, whose body nearly flopped onto the keyboard where he typed, whose brain gears were getting stuck, but whose sentences needed words.
all he wanted from me was to stay right by his side. he did not want to face the night alone, the dark, the hollow.
i tried to make my braincells kick in gear, to back up his, but mine too were stuck in midnight quicksand.
except for this one thought, the thought that kept me upright, shoulder-to-shoulder beside my aching tired boy: remember when the labor wouldn’t stop, i asked myself, remember when it hurt so much and there was no escaping? well, this too is labor, flashed-forward, labor of another kind: yes, it hurts; stick with it.
this child, now nearly 10 inches taller, and 50 pounds heavier than his mother, he’s in a dark hole now, i told myself. he is trying to make sense of sentences for a teacher who demands the very most–razor-sharp thought, construction without yield, lump-free logic.
you do not leave a child when it hurts, when it gets too hard. at least not in the book of motherhood that i took off the shelf.
i’m not alone.
i see it all around me all the time. the mother whose son’s leg was crushed in the elevator door–after the other leg was broken in the shower. the mother whose sweet girl has tumors in her liver, for the second time now. the mother whose baby was born blind in one eye. the mother whose third-grader doesn’t learn like all the rest, who twirls in circles, even when the teacher says to stop, even when the other parents pretend to look away, but you hear them if you listen, tsk, tsk, they pretend not to say.
mothers do not escape the pains of birth once birth is ended.
mothers sign on, through thick and thin. marriage vows pale, put up against the promises of motherhood.
there is no mountain i will not climb. no shark-infested waters i won’t swim.
if i need to be up at 5 to stir the oatmeal in the morning, watch me stagger down the stairs. need to run to the grocery store at 10 p.m., to buy roadfood for the hungry rowers, well then grab the keys, find the clogs, and point the car where it must go.
there is no shortcut when the subject is a mother’s love. no cliffs notes on how to raise a kid. you take what you’re given, you swerve, you duck, you swing. you give it all you’ve got, and then a dollop that you never knew you had.
show me a kid in trouble, and a mama whose heart is not weighted down, as if sagging from a bag of rocks strung and tied around that sorry muscle.
but then the morning comes. the kid looks up, stares straight into your eyes, deep through and out the other side, into the eyes of the one he knows loves him through and through and through, rough spots and zits, a mother’s eyes don’t see those things. or if they do, they forgive and forgive.
all a mama wants is for that kid to grow and thrive and capture all his dreams.
and if it takes the labor pains that do not end to make those dreams come true, well then i’ll be the mama who takes it head on, full throttle.
because, in my book, that’s what births the miracle, the love that’s like no other.
that magnificent creation up above, the garden of wonder? it’s from my little one, and i am crazy mad for it. intend to frame it, hang it on my bedroom wall. so i can wake up each morning, and rise and shine and face the world that so benevolently gave me not one but two dreams come true.
happy mother’s day to each and all of you who mother in one magnificent form or another….
Thanks mom i thought of putting the smilefaces by my signature TED 🙂
Yes, I’ve just started and I pray I’ll have the strength to give her what she needs from me along the way. I often think about what may be ahead. The village is key.Thank you for this.
just wanna clarify, the reason the boy up above was achin’ etc. was because he was on the verge of being uber-sick. this was the eve before all the full-blown symptoms appeared. at that late hour all he knew was he ached all over, had a huge swollen lump in his neck. it wouldn’t be till morning that we knew he’d come down with something awful. most nights, trust me, he burns the midnight oil all by his lonesome. it was the double-wham of incoming virus, and giant assignment, that made for the extra-stressed equation that night….he barely had time to mend, had to be back at school after one mere day off, and a trip to the doctor. as i type this now, he is far off in ohio, rowing his heart out…..and i wish he’d packed mittens. but, oh well, he is a strapping young lad….
you write: “marriage vows pale, put up against the promises of motherhood.” wow. blow me away. straight to the heart, to the essence. thank you, mama babs!!
LOVE that picture. That’s a keeper all right. “HMD” to everyone here, as the card from a florist’s bouquet once said to me.
Barbara: I am in the middle of replying to your reply in e-mail, and something made me pause and come here, to see what you might have written for Mother’s Day. Wonderul. As you wrote me: “Thank you and thank you.” (If you hadn’t added the note re the artwork, I was going to ask if it was “available,” just one of the many, many, many you have collected over the years from Will and Ted, one that you just maybe, might, p-l-e-a-s-e be able to part with. That I could [and would] give it an excellent home. I had to stop and look at it and smile, before I started reading. Then, I got to the end, read the note, and… Rats!)XOXOXOXO
P.S. Aha! I found a way to “have” it, if Ted doesn’t mind: I saved it to my picture file. Now I can set it as my background picture. (First try, alas, it just used the center of the drawing, lopping off the top of the tall one’s head and the bottom of the stems/trunks. That’s the problem with horizontal screens. So, I turned it counterclockwise and tried that. Bingo! Yes, I have to turn my head to the left to see them standing up, but so what? So periodically, when I need a simile, I can pop that on the screen for the day. (Liked my old computer program better: It would take a vertical like this and center it on the screen, with a lot of solid color around it, like a mat in framing. This one, Windows 7, in thinking it’s being helpful, only does the annoying full horizontal.screen.)
To Babsy, my partner from the get go in this journey. We parsed — painfully — even before they were born, my older woman and your younger man. And then they were playmates and now friends. May they always be and we always be…Your metaphor was perfect pitch. Birth pains forever. I felt them acutely this week as my little (littler?) one was bullied. And feel the stuff, too, that you know and that’s not said…the stuff you know so well about them that you know what’s going on even though there have been no words. Psychologically perhaps this is not healthy but how can it be helped completely? How does empathy develop if not when they feel it toward them? I understand the benefits of separation, too. As girl 2 goes into Torah reading in preparation for her mitzvah I am remembering girl 1 and her mad dash for the womb moments before she was to go to the bima. I offered reassurance, patted, encouraged and wouldn’t you know it: all served to further the regression. So I told her to sit up, move a few inches from me, and find something in herself that I knew she had that would enable her to walk up those steps and turn around to face over a hundred faces staring at her as she read and chanted those ancient hieroglyphics without vowels. Identification and compassion didn’t work: only separation did. I suppose its metaphor is not labor pains but birth itself, the beginning of their long road to leaving. And our long road to letting go more and more as they sit then crawl then walk then get on a school bus and wave goodbye and an airplane and wave goodbye…What an undulating line it all is knowing where to be as they infinitesimally move toward going from the moment of birth. (Is college on my mind much?) To be continued.PS to Karen: I want that drawing, too.to David: I thought the same thing as you about pales to marriage vows.to Bec: You will do it, are doing it. Your natural self reflection will serve you well.
To Ted: I love your drawing. It’s so beautiful. It looks African or South American to me because of the colors you used. I love your smiley face here, too. And your smiling face.
maybe we’re always laboring the next birth. it’s mother’s day: i think i’ve gone over the edge trying to make sense of it all.
i love that: laboring the next birth. for there is always birthing in the raising of children, and in the wisdom-gathering of grownups who don’t stop living/learning/birthing anew…..i love that brilliant mind/heart of yours ms jan……oh it’s been a mountain climb with your bright shining light illuminating the way….xoxox
Amen to everything.
i consider this a prayer, the sounding of a call to what is next…..i am ready now after having read this. thank you. i think i will print it and pack it in my hospital bag. hope our little one honors the june 15th due date–have diapers, soft blankets and loads of room in our hearts.