Friday, July 20, 2012

yes, we buried her placenta

We finally buried Em's placenta…about ten minutes after I had the brilliant idea to bury it on the uninhabited island in the middle of a lake in the Adirondack mountains where we conceived our baby. I thought it was genius. It would have been so symbolic and that way, we'd all be able to visit it, because someday I'm sure we will leave this house given how restless we are….and then what? Then my baby's placenta remains in the ground in some strangers backyard? Alex asked me if I was truly serious about packing the placenta in a cooler, driving it five hours to the Adirondacks, renting a canoe, canoeing the placenta and a shovel (and our baby) out to the island, and burying the placenta there. I said yes, of course, it's a brilliant idea and much more emotionally tolerable for me. Ten minutes later, though, we were in the backyard and the placenta was lowered into the hole in the ground that my husband had already dug in the 100 degree heat. And there it remains. 

We didn't have an actual ceremony like I planned and hoped we would, but I suppose there is always time for that….and now we have spared all those who attend it from having to watch us handle a frozen organ. Surprisingly, this is upsetting to some people (sense the sarcasm;). I admit, as fascinated as I am with placentas, and as emotionally attached as I was to my baby's, it wasn't exactly appealing when it was two months old and frozen. Anyway, perhaps a year from now we will hold hands in a circle around Emerson's dogwood tree and sing songs and recite poetry and my hippie dreams will be fulfilled. 

Grandpa Jack wasn't as impressed with the placenta as 
some of us were….okay, it was just me.

What are you people doing to my womb?!

It's all natural.

And then Alex's sunglasses fell in the hole….
next to the placenta….and I started to scream, 
because natural or not, it's still a biohazard.

The biohazard bag took a little bit of the beauty out 
of the symbolic moment.

Are you done digging, Daddy? I'm losing interest.

Just a girl and her tree.

Friday, July 13, 2012

motherless daughters

I started writing this post a few months before I gave birth. At that time, I didn't know how to end it, so it's been sitting around with the other unpublished posts I've got piling up on my computer. But, today—the anniversary of my (adoptive) mother's death— I thought it would be appropriate to take it out and finally finish it.

I wrote this while pregnant….

I woke myself up in the middle of the night calling for my mother last week. There I was, the middle of the night, big belly making my escape from my bedsheets nearly impossible, tears in my eyes, calling for the one and only person that I cannot have right now. I spoke to her anyway, spoke out loud to the darkness, but I found myself alone.

My midwives tell me that women without mothers experience the pain of that absence all over again during pregnancy. In becoming a mother, it only makes sense that you would look back to your own. For me, that's a complicated thing to do. I've lost two mothers in my lifetime. The first was lost to addiction and mental illness. She is not deceased, but was swallowed up by her afflictions so much so that I do not know the real woman beneath them….I do not know who I lost, but have always carried that absence with me on a profound level.

My second experience of losing a mother was quite different, though. There was a woman who was first my stepmother, who relentlessly tried to peel through the layers of pain and fear and protection that surrounded me as a child, a woman who eventually found the little girl underneath, picked her up, dropped the "step" and became my mother. Ultimately, my time with her was short, but without her presence in my life, without her love and affection, without her belief that I was truly her daughter, I know my path would have veered in a dark, troubling direction. But, I lost this mother too. She passed away suddenly at the young age of 48, a few days after my 23rd birthday.

I will always carry these losses with me, the absence will always be in tow. So much of who we are, how we feel about the world and how we feel in that world, comes from our mother. There is a space within us that only she can fill, and if we lose her that space remains empty….at times our memories may float through, filling it momentarily if we focus hard enough to bring her back to life….and then she is gone again. That space is sacred and cannot be filled by anyone else.

So, then what happens when you begin the enormous transition that accompanies pregnancy from the moment you conceive, when you sort through what it means to be a mother and become one yourself? I've found the process overwhelming and the memories, both painful and happy, inescapable.

And now I am a mother….

So far, mothering without a mother hasn't been always easy. The first month of Emmie's life I found myself crying several times, wishing a fruitless wish. "If only my mother was here…." I'd often think or say out loud. No one else can provide the kind of comfort, guidance and support that your mother can when you are in the early days of motherhood yourself. But, I get by. Because I am a mother. And that's what mothers do. They soldier on, they push through what's ailing themselves in order to give to their children, they don't let their past pain tarnish their children's futures—at least that is the kind of mother I aspire to be.

When I was in labor, my progress stalled. There was a moment when I was full of fear and I so badly wanted my mother. My midwife was about to massage my cervix for the second time, and I could not bear the thought of experiencing the pain of this again. I found myself reliving a lot of "old pain," pain from decades ago, long forgotten, but called up in that moment. It was natural for me to then reach for my mother as she is a symbol of protection to me. 

Now I am the protector. I pulled myself through labor for my little girl, and I live each day showing her that she can trust me….that I am here, always. I can tell by the way she melts into my arms, the way she looks to me to hold her when she is inconsolable, the way she gazes up at me when she's at my breast, that I am doing my job. 

I am not sure that I will ever stop reliving the loss of my mother(s) or stop experiencing the pain of her absence, at least to some degree. I am too often reminded of her, because I am now doing her job. I sometimes find myself slipping into daydreams. It will be a hard day, the baby will be cranky and I will be exhausted, and then my mom will walk in the door. She will take the crying baby from my arms and soothe her with ease, she will tell me to crawl into bed to take a nap, she will cook me dinner and ask if I want her to spend the night to help out. Then there are moments, like the other day when I saw a red Audi on the highway, the same car my mom drove, and I honest to god forgot that she was no longer alive. I quickly thought "hey, I wonder if that's her!" And then I was shocked to realize that I had actually forgotten for a moment. That hasn't happened since the first year after her death. As sad as those daydreams or moments of forgetfulness are, they are also somewhat comforting, because my mother is alive in them. 

I'm not sure I'm anywhere near some sort of conclusion about mothering without a mother, as my journey has just begun. I suppose that is why this post feels jumbled and vague. But, I know that trying to put it into words is helpful in sorting it out. The beautiful lesson is that I have part of my mother with me. She was there for me during labor, when I called out to her. She is here for me now as I stumble around and blossom into the mother I am sure she knew I'd become. I feel her pride in how I've handled motherhood thus far, and I feel her confidence in the kind of life I will give my child. My cheerleader is still there, whispering in my ear and watching over my baby.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

two months of emerson

My baby is enormous. I am in complete denial about it. She smiles and laughs, reaches up to touch my face with her sweet hand while she nurses, holds items we put in her grasp, has gone up two diaper sizes since last month, and is already a little chatterbox despite her nonexistent vocabulary. She says "el goo" in response to most questions. Is this Spanish for "goo?" We're not sure. But, it's her signature phrase, which is usually followed by her signature noise, "whooo!" The girl cracks me up. She lets out a very dramatic "whooo!" as sort of a sign-off to activities—just changed my diaper, "whoooo!" or just had some amazing boobie juice, "whooo!" God, I love her.

I really can't believe it's been two months since I gave birth. While I was pregnant, one of my husband's friends told him that in parenthood the days are long, but the years are short. I've found that to be true already. As I write this there is a fuzzy head brushing against my chin, and a long baby body sprawled out across my chest. But, her legs are so long that they can't curl up underneath her anymore—instead they dangle past my hips even though they are bent. Her arms reach around my sides in sort of a half hug. And I can't quite remember when it was that she grew longer than my torso or her head became larger than my breast. I looked back at photos of her the other day to try to piece together when all these changes occurred, and I got as far as the second day of her life (before I had to stop because I was too overwhelmed with emotion) when she was so tiny that her legs would curl up in my armpit while she nursed. That was it. Her whole body spanned my breast to my armpit, and that was it. This morning's breakfast feels like it happened an eternity ago, but the day she was that tiny never stops feeling like it was yesterday. 

This blog post feels rushed and uninspired, which makes me sad, but this past month the chaos level in our household seems to have ratcheted up. Em has become very attached to mama, and mama, being an attachment parenting devotee, has found herself with a squirmy barnacle that makes it nearly impossible to get anything done. Take for instance the thank you card that I just put in the mail today. Ignore the fact that this thank you card was for a gift I received a couple of weeks after Em was born—normally I am quite good about sending out cards promptly. Pay more attention to the fact that it literally took me weeks to write one simple card. And when I say that it took me several weeks, I mean the card sat on my kitchen counter, open and with a pen sitting on top of it. I would find myself walking by the card and would jot down one sentence before something, or more likely someone, would call me away from it. The writing of this card went on like this for weeks, sentence by sentence, until I was finally able to sign my name and lick it shut just yesterday. I walked it to the mailbox (with Em on my hip, obviously), which was somewhat shocking. I was sure it would take another several weeks for me to actually get the darn thing in the mail. So, it was a big day. And that's life right now.

What I will (quickly) say (before the barnacle on my chest wakes up) about Emerson becoming increasingly attached to me, is that while my life and my chores and my hobbies (and my hygiene) have been pushed completely to the side in order to parent my little one right now, the benefit is knowing that I am providing the specific kind of love that she so rightly deserves and needs. There are surely moments of frustration and exhaustion, but making this child feel right and safe in the world is the most incredible job I've ever had. If I can do that one thing every day, then I should feel more accomplished and proud than I've ever felt. And the perk is that I get to fall deeper in love with my babe while I do it, and I get to watch her fall deeper in love with me. I am almost shocked by how much she loves me, and by how much she needs and wants me round the clock. There is nothing more exhausting, but nothing more fulfilling.