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….