small mother

I was already a mother when I became a mother. Long before I had my son. I just didn’t know it.

I became a mother at three. My mother had tuberculosis when I was born. Luckily she coughed blood a month before, otherwise I would not be here. I was born in a tuberculosis sanatorium, the first baby there in 25 years. My mother said that the staff was hugely excited about a baby. She was drugged to the gills while reading about the French Revolution and hallucinated Marie-Antonette’s head on a pole and the guillotine. She joked that she could never read about the French Revolution again. I was born, she kissed me, and I was swept away so that I would not get tuberculosis.

I was with my father and father’s family and then with my maternal grandparents. I came home to my parents at nine months. Adults kept handing me to other adults. I concluded that they were loving but stupid and couldn’t be trusted for a moment.

My sister was born five days before I turned three. My mother said that I met guests at the door and said, “Come see my baby.” Mine, because these adults don’t understand the needs of a baby, and I want her to feel loved and safe. No one will give my baby away!

Later my mother would tell a story about my sister worrying about Kindergarten. My mother could not reassure her. Neither could my father. I spoke up: “All you learn is colors, numbers and ABC and you already know those. I taught you.” My mother claimed that my sister was instantly reassured. I don’t remember: these are my mother’s stories and she is gone. But I have collected mother daughter pictures and small statues, just a few, all my life. And I wanted to have children. I liked surgery and obstetrics, but I chose family medicine, because I want to have children and to see them and be a mother too.

Health and joy and safety and comfort to all mothers and fathers and children everywhere.

 

Home

This is not a perfect photograph…. and yet, at the same time, it is for me. My daughter was home last week for spring break. She had a haircut and sent her hair to Locks of Love. The background is cluttered with the cupboard open and counter, but her concentration and quiet is a contrast to that. And anyhow, I am biased, right? We love even terrible photos of those we love.

mother, maiden and crone

When Beth is dying in Little Women, she says that it is like the tide going out….. sometimes I miss my sister so much. I am trying to make sense of the third stage, the stage after mother. With my daughter in college, I am living alone for the first time in 28 years. And I don’t have my sister or my mother or my grandmother to accompany me.

I took the title from one of my sister’s essays: An early promotion to crone. Here: http://e2grundoon.blogspot.com/2007/08/early-promotion-to-crone.html

I want to discuss my sister’s essay with her …. I can’t, except in dreams.

mother, maiden and crone

small child in my heart
baby cuddled warm
safe and loved
small girl dancing
sing run shout

woman seen and heard
woman silenced dressed undressed
woman learning searching writing
woman held and loved
woman gravid bearing carrying
woman feeding raising nurturing

crone quiet watching
white haired dismissed old
unseen unknown ignored
laughing playing dancing
crone alone
sing run shout
dancing

music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiP9WH0zN0Y

birth

Reading about drugs

LSD
and that people re-experience the terrible trauma of birth

but wait: terrible trauma…

I had the grace and delight and sometimes terror
of catching babies, new and slippery and surprised
for nineteen years

they do not arrive traumatized

an older obstetrician
always gentle
when I would ask for help
deep calm and sometimes
he would wait for the newborn
and not rush us to the operating room

and if the child emerged
he would say “girl ears”
or “boy ears”
he always guessed
frequently wrong
his small tickle of humor
and the mother too busy at that moment
to notice at all
except that his voice was calm

I think of the one forming
in the womb
the sounds of mother’s heart and guts
dark and sounds
of father brother sister other

the first time I see
the new baby in clinic
I imitate the sound of the doppler
swish swish swish
and the newborn alerts, and knows my voice too

I think of the one forming
in the womb
and my daughter
who tried to come early
confining me to bed for three months
and adrenaline-like terbutaline
continuously
my hands tremble
my heart rate at one hundred
I knit to channel the figdets
six sweaters
and my daughter is worth it

I think of the one forming
in the womb
out of room
the space is too tight
can no longer stretch or kick
head down
ready

I think of the one forming
in the womb
saying now
I need more room
now and the cascade starts

we don’t know what starts labor
the baby or the mother
or both

now
I need more room
and the infant pushes towards the door
towards more room

and I have had
the grace and delight and sometimes terror
of catching them
slick and messy and bloody
as they emerge
into the light

open their eyes
and breathe
startled
at light and room and air

Break your own rules

If I say “Food fight.” you may think of Animal House.

I think of my mother.

I am in high school in Alexandria, Virginia. My sister is three years younger. We are in the kitchen, it is hot. 99 degrees F and 98 percent humidity and the back door is open. We do not have air conditioning. We are eating watermelon. The old kind: with seeds.

My mother holds up a seed, pinched between her fingers, looking wicked.

My eyes narrow. “If you shoot that, you started it.” …. not in the house, is the unspoken rule that echoes.

She shoots it at me.

We all three start pinching the slick black watermelon pits at each other, laughing like hyenas. In a large kitchen with open shelves and dishes placed on all the shelves, often nested. It devolves into small chunks of watermelon, hurled at each other. No rinds, because of the open shelves. At last we all run out of pits and watermelon and stopped

There is silence while we survey the very impressive mess. There are watermelon seeds everywhere. And the floor is pretty wet.

Watermelon is STICKY.

We laugh more and start cleaning up. I leave for work or school or something.

Later my mother says, “I washed the floor three times before it stopped feeling sticky. And I kept finding watermelon seeds in the dishes on the shelves for the next two years.”

And: “It was worth it.”

The photograph is of my mother in high school.