Motherhood, redeux

In honor of another impending mother’s day, I’m re-posting this piece that I wrote three years ago. I’ll get back to generating new content shortly – there will be some exciting changes, as I’m joining a blog network with a more specific theme and will be writing a lot for them. In the meantime, here’s where I was just a few short years ago.

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On May 8th, 2010, Michael and I found out I was pregnant – it was almost on a whim that I said I wanted to stop at the grocery store on the way home.  I picked up a pregnancy test, peed on a stick, and our lives changed forever.  On May 9th, 2010 (Mothers’ Day), we hiked up to the top of Mt. Nittany and determined, after almost twenty-four hours of talking it over, that we would keep this baby and love it fully.

Some people may balk at my admission that yes, we did consider abortion. I’ve never been one to hide the truth when I think it’s pertinent. I don’t think hiding it does any good: it’s a decision many women and families face, and by not talking about it we make it taboo.  To my mind, I was a 23-year-old who hadn’t graduated from college yet. I was married to a 30-year-old who was just beginning college, and who had gone through a string of jobs without ever finding something he wanted to devote himself to. My student loan debt was looming in my mind like an approaching hurricane, and, truth be told, I had never in my life considered having children.

In my experience children were strange, foreign creatures that you couldn’t communicate with.  I’ve never been playful, or energetic, or even particularly affectionate.  I used to babysit, but only for babies so young that I didn’t really need to interact with them.  Older children perplexed, maybe even intimidated me. Even beyond that, I’ve grown up knowing that the number one problem facing our planet and our species is overpopulation.  I’ve read the books and articles, and had the discussions with my father. I know that in most ways, having a child is pure folly: it’s harmful to the world around me, it’s financial suicide, and quite frankly, the world we’re in right now wasn’t one I wanted to bring another human being in to.

Those thoughts were my first reaction. And I was upset that Michael and I had somehow managed to make such a big “mistake.”  But as I thought more deeply – beyond my logical reasoning – I knew that there was no way I could have an abortion. Oddly enough, in a significant way my vegetarianism made part of the decision for me. A strange sense of not wanting to disrupt any life. This had nothing to do with religion – if anyone is adamantly against Christianity, it’s me – and everything to do with my own internal sense of what was right.

Having an abortion felt wrong to me, because despite all of the reasons flowing through my veins that we shouldn’t have a child yet, there were as many reasons that we shouldn’t have an abortion: we were married, we owned our house, I was nearly done with school, we had families who would love, support, and guide us, and if nothing else Michael and I were enough in love that we could raise a child in a home full of it. Note: I didn’t say those were reasons to have a baby, but reasons that for me (and me alone – no one else) were indications NOT to have an abortion.* I was still upset, and terrified.

* I need to add here that I am vehemently pro-choice. My decision was fraught with uncertainty and fear, and my reasons for the choice that I made are my own. I don’t expect anyone else to make the same choice.

Throughout my pregnancy, I had second thoughts.  My body was taken over by an unknown organism that was making me miserable. Like a parasite, it took nutrients from me and gave nothing back. I was tired, sore, nauseous, and downright ill at times.  I looked and felt horrible – and I resented it. Perhaps some women experience a beautiful, comfortable pregnancy (or are deluded enough to enjoy it), but not me. And I’m willing to bet that if more women are honest, they’ll admit that they, too, were not the rosy, glowing picture of pre-maternal bliss that they would like everyone to think they were.

Then, on January 7th, 2011, the birth. It was painful – more painful than I ever imagined it could be – and messy. It was traumatic, and I was severely injured in a place no one should ever be so harmed. I’ll save you the blow-by-blow of the birth, because I’ve written of it elsewhere.  What matters is that it, too, was not the Pregnancy Magazine version of events. It was not as planned – but I’ve learned that nothing is.

I got to hold my son for perhaps two or three seconds – I pulled him out of me, and once I did the nurses whisked him away because I was bleeding out and too weak to hold him. His head was misshapen and bruised from the birth, and I was in rough shape. Too out of it to think of anything but the practicalities of “is my baby okay?” and “how long until I can see him?,” I waited while the doctors worked on me for almost two hours. When I finally got to see him again, we named him Jeffrey Matthias Acquaviva – the first name after my father, who he perfectly resembled, and the middle name after the character in Brian Jacques’ “Redwall” series.

Still, he was an enigma to me. I was staring at his face, trying to connect the tiny, fragile thing in my arms to the kicking and fluttering I’d felt for the past nine months.  I couldn’t do it.  He felt like a stranger to me.

We’ve all heard that you fall instantly in love, but that’s only half true. I knew, looking at him, that there was absolutely nothing I wouldn’t do to protect this bundle of confusion in my arms.  But I still didn’t know him…how could I? There wasn’t really a “him” to know – just a collection of needs to be met and cries to interpret.

The real love of motherhood came slowly, without me even noticing it. It came through days and nights of constant contact, and in the gradual development of an individual personality from what had seemed like an amorphous being of cries and sleep. Hormones, Michael, and sheer force of will got me through the first few weeks.  It began to be easier.

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere between his birth and now Mattie became a person.  He is an individual, with preferences and flaws like the rest of us. He squirmed his way into my heart, and now I couldn’t (wouldn’t want to) imagine life without him. I am in love with him. Yes, the all-encompassing, unconditional love you hear about. We have grown from a couple trying to take care of an infant into a family of three.  I wake up at 3AM (and 1AM, and 5AM…) and don’t wonder what’s wrong with him – I just relish the moments I get to spend so close to him, knowing they won’t last forever.

It is pure, outrageous, loving chaos. I know of no other job that requires you to enjoy sleeplessness, vomit, excrement, and screaming so much as motherhood (or fatherhood). But enjoy it I do. And don’t ask me why – I can’t say. I do know that it has something to do with the soft coos he makes when he’s eating but about to fall asleep. It’s in the way he smiles at me as compared to the way he smiles at other people. How he loves to be held but wants to be able to see the world at the same time. It’s in the way Michael looks at him when he’s sleeping, and the way we smile at each other while we’re changing his diaper. It’s in the firm grasp of his hand when he pulls my finger up to his mouth so he can gnaw on it with his gums, drooling all over me.

Mostly, somehow, it is private. The moments I treasure most are when it’s just Mattie and I. He talks to me. Not just making noise, but talking. He communicates, and I listen. We look into each other’s eyes and we talk – about anything and everything. Just after that are the moments we spend as a family, hiking around central Pennsylvania and showing him the world. Falling in love with our son has renewed my love for Michael.  I have watched him grow into his role as a father, and I am in love all over again.

We notice it acutely when we are apart from him.  On a quick date to a movie, with Mattie safely and lovingly in the arms of very excited grandparents, it hit us: he is my world. Being without him, I felt a sense of something not being right with the world. Something missing.

On Mothers’ Day this year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a mother. It means a lot of thankless tasks, and a lot of work. It means letting the floors be a little bit dusty, and not getting to read the new DFW novel right away. It means sacrifice. It also means love – love like I’ve never known or thought possible. I didn’t understand how much a mother can love her child until I had one of my own. And now I appreciate my mother that much more, because I understand just how much she did (and does) for me. He is light, and joy, and all that is good in this world. His very existence is all I want for Mothers’ Day, every year from here on out.

I don’t know precisely when, or how, but somewhere between last Mothers’ Day and this one, I became a mother – not just in fact, but in spirit. And I couldn’t be happier.

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