Once upon a time, long, long ago, a doctor told me that I would have no children. I was about twenty-one and was some sort of gynecological mystery. My husband at the time and I tried fertility drugs, paralyzed with fear that we would end up with twins. God knows we were so young; we could barely take care of ourselves at that time. The drugs were a dismal failure at helping us have a baby, but they were an astounding success at giving me wildly swinging moods. I normally don’t need any help in the mood swing department. We finally decided that it was too costly to us financially and personally, so we quit trying. I was expecting within months.
My pregnancy with Eric was eventful. I was involved in a head-on car accident that all but totaled my (then very cool) Buick Regal. Thankfully, we were both fine and I escaped with only minor bruising on my watermelon like tummy from the steering wheel. I was eight months along when the accident occurred and I was very lucky.
After the accident I had a ridiculous amount of preterm labor. Eric was apparently enjoying his cozy home, however, and his due date of Christmas day approached with no other sign of him being interested in making his appearance. I was finally induced a few days before Christmas, probably because my OB/GYN was interested in not being called to the hospital for a delivery on Christmas day. We were very excited and armed with all the stuff that birthing class told us we’d need and several Kenny G tapes so that I could labor with soft, jazzy music in the background. It all seemed like it was going to be so much fun. Ah … first time parents.
Cut to eighteen hours later. Eric’s father was exhausted. I had an epidural that was only working on one side of my body and I had taken up shrieking every time I had a contraction. At one point I grabbed the nurse by her scrubs, pulled her very close to my face and bellowed “I CAN’T DO THIS.” She cheerily said, “Yes you can! You are doing it!” But I wasn’t. Eric was stuck … big time. The doctor came in to see what all the noise was about and murmured something to the nurses and the next thing I knew I was heading for the O.R. (still shrieking, by the way). The anesthesiologist tried explaining to me what she was going to do and with a voice from hell itself, I yelled “Knock me out!” And so she did. I’m sure everyone was much happier … at least their hearing was saved.
I woke up in the recovery room completely confused. They told me that I’d had a boy, but couldn’t tell me if he was okay. After hanging around there for a couple of weeks (okay, an hour) they took me to my room and stopped by the nursery. They brought out a baby boy with a very very pointy head. I looked at him puzzled—how did I know he was mine? They laid him on my chest and he looked at me and scowled. I’m sure he was thinking, “What the hell was all that screaming about? I was the one who was stuck.”
Greg’s birth was a little bit better. Having never gone into labor on my own, I really wasn’t sure what was going on when it started in church on a Sunday in September. I remember looking down at my belly rather quizzically and wondering what the little fart was up to in there. Turns out he was planning his escape.
We went down to the hospital where my OB came in, broke my water and informed me that I’d “bought the farm.” No Kenny G tapes this time. Instead, we watched a Mary Tyler Moore Mary-thon. We watched the contractions come and go on the monitor and all of a sudden … they started to hurt. I told Greg’s dad that I needed the epidural and he said, “No, you don’t, that one didn’t look bad”. I pressed my face through the bars on the side rail of the bed and said quietly but with some force, “Get. The. NURSE!” I was a little calmer with Greg’s birth, mostly because I had better drugs. He seemed to be hung up around a sharp turn and the OB gave me exactly thirty minutes to get on with it or he was going in after him. About fifteen minutes later, Greg made his grand appearance. I yelled, “I DID IT!” And if my legs had worked at the time I would have probably been leaping around the room. I watched the nurse plop Greg onto the warmer table and stick a baby hat on his head. He immediately yanked the hat off and peed on her. His personality was quite clear even at minutes old.
I wasn’t expecting to have another child. I was feeling particularly rotten one night and was having chest pains. Emma’s dad took me to the ER where they slapped some nitro paste on my chest and starting pulling blood for tests. I gave them the obligatory urine sample and a few minutes later there was a doctor standing at my bedside. He held up a slip of paper with a big “+” on it. I looked at him blankly. He shook the paper and pointed to it. I shrugged my shoulders and looked confused. He pointed to Emma’s dad sitting in the corner and asked if he could share my health information in front of him. I nodded and he threw up his hands and said, “You’re pregnant!” I looked at him with wide eyes and said “Impossible.” Later he sent me for an ultrasound and there on the screen was a tiny beating heart. I just sat gap jawed on the gurney. I was thirty-eight.
Emma decided that her arrival would be dramatic. There were constant false alarms with her because of preterm labor. Very early, she decided to make her appearance and the doctors put the kabosh on it by giving me some magnesium sulfate. Spoiled her day. Finally about two weeks before her due date, I’d had enough and the contractions were really convincing. We went back to the hospital and this time, I got the youngest doctor in the practice who agreed to do a C-section since I wasn’t progressing. Seizing the opportunity to get this over with, I agreed to all the drugs I could get and happily went off to the OR. I had been looking forward to another natural birth, but to hell with that! I was too old for this stuff.
In the O.R. the doctors were listening to some weird Zamfir flute music. They started the C-section and with one mighty pull, Emma was out and I could breathe. I was admiring my new expanded lung volume when the neonatologist called “Hey mom, dad … LOOK!” And he held up an extremely pissed off, purple baby. TA DAH! While they stitched me up I listened to her give the neonatologist seven kinds of hell. The last one was here. I was never going to go through this again … and it hit me rather sadly all of a sudden: I would never do this … again.
The first hours of motherhood after the kids were born is sort of a blur. There are things though that I did each time that I think are innate—not something that you think about or want to do—but almost have to do. I unwrapped each one carefully from the cocoon of blankets and carefully explored their pink little bodies, marveling at tiny toes and perfect nails, the nose that was just like mine, the tiny shell like ears. I remember saying to Eric ”oh my gosh, who are you?”, to Greg “what am I going to do with YOU?” and to Emma “Hey … it’s me! I’m the mommy!”
My favorite time was when I was finally alone with just the baby. I did the same to each of them. I stroked their hair with my fingers and then used my cheek to smooth it against my face. I inhaled long, deep breaths of baby wonderfulness. I remember that the most. I couldn’t stop sniffing their tiny heads. I had never smelled a scent so marvelous—it was intoxicating. I had never felt anything as soft as their hair. I had never felt anything so powerful as that feeling at that moment. In those quiet moments when I was alone with them—I made them promises—none of which they remember, but all of which I’ve kept. Promises between me and each of them. And then, in the same manner each time, I tucked them close to me and we went to sleep. I would awaken periodically and sniff their soft hair and smooth their cheek with the backs of my fingers. Nothing else existed, but that tiny new person. Somehow that had made its way into the world through me. It was a perfect, magic time.
They are big people now. Eric is twenty-two, Greg is eighteen and Emma is seven. They don’t remember any of those things that happened but like to hear the stories sometimes. Of course, Greg loves the part where he ripped off his baby hat and peed on the nurse. Eric is still scowling at me. Emma is still demanding my attention. It’s easy to forget that perfect, brief time after their births when promises were made. I think Mother’s Day is a time for me to remember that time. While others honor their mothers for things they’ve done, I recall my children’s births and how my life has been made so complete by their lives. I can never have that magic, perfect time back—but their existence reminds me of when we had it together.
Even now, as I write this, I can smell that scent in my mind and feel the softness of their hair against my cheek—Eric’s blonde, Greg’s dark brown, Emma’s mousey brown. Those memories of bonding with them, lit by perfect light in my mind, are what make Mother’s Day happy for me.