Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How to Honor All Mothers...

-->

When my son was born nearly 13 years ago, I capped nine months of perfect health with a complicated and stressful delivery that couldn’t have been more opposite from my idyllic pregnancy. My son was born after 52 hours of really trying to make it happen, the first 48 of them without intervention; it turned out that despite my detailed birth plan, my team of midwives (each one had a shift with me, my delivery was so maddeningly long) and two loved ones cheering me on at my bedside, it was just not going to happen how I’d envisioned it.

There was no music from home. There was no birthing tub. There was no “Okay, now…push!” moment as my team huddled around me. After all those hours of labor, most of them stuck in a transitional labor that pretty much made me want to break my husband’s hand as he tried to comfort me, I finally said uncle. I waved the white flag and I was wheeled into obstetric surgery. At this point, I just wanted my baby; I didn’t need to impress anyone anymore with my exemplary birthing story anymore. I wanted to go home.

In what felt like a matter of minutes after being wheeled in, the surgical team cheered: It’s a boy! I finally had my movie moment. “This is why your delivery couldn’t progress,” the surgeon said. “Your umbilical cord was too short. I’ve seen short ones before but this is really short, like eight inches.” My son was suspended; he couldn’t move despite my uterus contracting, my organs trying to push him down the canal. He was passed to me, my beautiful, perfect baby, red-faced from trying so damn hard. “He looks just like you,” said the anesthesiologist. After about 30 seconds, my son was taken from me.

Our son had aspirated meconium (baby’s first poop) in the womb and when that happens, respiration can be compromised. His breathing was labored as is common when meconium is is found in the water. My son was rushed away from us, suctioned, incubated and intubated. All the years I’d spent imagining this rapturous moment collapsed with a jarring clang as I was wheeled to my room, crying, sleep-deprived, drugged, probably babbling incomprehensibly and without my long-awaited baby in my arms.

The next couple of days were a blur of my husband wielding phone calls, visitors who were trying really hard to be cheerful and a doctor who said two words that shook me to my core, that I probably have etched inside me somewhere: my son was “very sick” and needed to be transferred to Children’s Memorial Hospital, 35 minutes away, to receive special care. Very sick, she said. Very sick. Sick. Very. These two words rattled around my head and knocked against each other like marbles. My idyllic pregnancy had taken a very wrong turn.

Every day, we’d visit my son at the hospital and I’d tentatively hold his little body. I felt like a failure and also like I’d just lost a cage match with Freddy Krueger, I was in so much pain. Every shallow breath was excruciating. It didn’t take long in the neo-natal unit to turn my attitude around, though: we were, in fact, very, very lucky. My son was full-term, unlike most of the patients there. He had all of his organs intact and his lungs were improving every day. His scores were excellent. He didn’t have a disease. He didn’t have cancer. He was strong and getting stronger every day. Unlike so many babies and children there, our setback was temporary and a very minor hiccup at that. If he hadn’t been born at this time of human history and in this developed nation, we likely would have both died in childbirth because of nothing other than a rare biological fluke that couldn’t have been prevented.

Each day as I shuffled through the huge hospital, stopping at every bench to catch my breath and gather my strength, I noticed parents who mostly were facing down a much different scenario with their children. I began to recognize the dark circles under their eyes, their faces drained of color - days without sunshine, sitting at bedsides, talking to specialists, getting test results, having difficult conversations on the phone – sometimes smiling, sometimes holding hands, their knuckles strained. We were at the hospital to see our healthy, full-term baby who would be released to us in less than a week. This was all that I needed to see. We were beyond lucky, the three of us.

At home finally, my son and I worked out the kinks with nursing and made up for lost time. We would lie in bed, me recovering from surgery, my son from his difficult birth, and be in synch with each other, flesh against flesh that whole beautiful summer. I couldn’t touch his silky skin enough. He was here. Staring at my son, though, I was aware of a sadness that also tore at my edges, frayed as they were already from my difficult delivery. I couldn’t help but think of the other mothers who were not so lucky. I would be enjoying my son, marveling that my body, battle-scarred as it was, could provide his sustenance and then, suddenly, I’d feel a wave of such deep grief it felt like I could get pulled away in a riptide of sheer sorrow. What was the matter with me? It took me a while to realize that it was my body’s way of acknowledging how many other mothers and babies are denied the good fortune that we had. I felt loss for the mothers with babies born into violence and famine. For the mothers with sick babies that they could not help. For the mothers who would never be able to feed and comfort their babies as they should. For the babies not as fortunate as my own. I grieved for those mothers and babies, human and otherwise, who would never be able to enjoy what I was enjoying with my son at my side, nurtured, protected and loved, every inch of him mentally catalogued like he was a miracle. 


Before I even had my son, I was asked again and again, “Well, you’re not going to raise him vegan, though, are you?” In fact, lying with my son as he nursed, I don’t know if I'd ever so certain about anything. The mothers with babies torn apart by war or other cruel systems haunted me. The mother cows and pigs who would never know their babies; the mothers and babies in war zones, denied the right to be together safely and comfortably at home with the windows open in the summer. I couldn’t do something for every mother and baby but I could do something for some by not aiding and abetting a barbaric system that I could easily avoid.

The first thing that I learned after becoming a mother is that not everything always goes according to plan. The second thing I learned is that once you become a mother, part of your heart lives outside of your body, which makes us profoundly vulnerable. How could we be indifferent to that vulnerability once we know? I was never stronger with my commitment to veganism than after I had a baby. I was a mother now, too.

2 comments:

Eleanor P King Hawkins said...

My Babies Birth Was Difficult, However Praise GOD,HE LOVE US AND PROVIDED US WITH HIS LOVE AND PEACE.
BEAUTIFUL STORY You Have Shared And I Thank You.

Eleanor P King Hawkins said...

My Babies Birth Was Difficult, However Praise GOD,HE LOVE US AND PROVIDED US WITH HIS LOVE AND PEACE.
BEAUTIFUL STORY You Have Shared And I Thank You.