Archive for category Parenthood
TweetI’ve been thinking a lot about how much time I read and absorb the life advice from other writers. It’s soft addiction. Articles about the challenge of motherhood and writing smell like dessert, and I devour each one as if I’ll find myself in someone else’s once kept now open secrets.
Who you choose to build a family with and how they view your writing life is kind of a big deal. So often it’s the children – how many to have, whether serious writers have children (whaaat) – who are blamed as the prime distractors to women writers. Here’s the thing though: a billion things distract or consume a writer’s time. But another adult in the household is capable of helping create and sustain a productive and balanced writing life. Right now, in most heterosexual relationships with stereotypical gendered traits, the partners, spouses, or lovers of women writers can help (he drove the kids to soccer, he made dinner one night) but its still the woman who does the majority of the child lifting. As long as that is the model, balance will not and cannot be struck.
If I could tell young writers anything it would be to cultivate as close to a sustainable writing life as early as possible so you can choose a partner well and the expectations are clear from the start. She or he doesn’t have to completely understand the demands of writing, but gets the jist that for as long as you’re in a committed relationship with writing, the primary human relationship won’t look like other relationships that are used as a barometer for success, happiness, or even peaceful.
Nick sometimes struggles with my struggle to be fully and absolutely present to him on weekends, our sacred hours together. My fingers begin itching for a pen or a keyboard, my mind starts forming rebuttals and imaginary characters (depending on what I’m working on), and my eyes widen or narrow in reaction to my thoughts, as if I’m having a conversation all by myself. Which, actually, is the painful truth for partners of writers.
Who you choose to parent with, how you set up that situation is one of the most underrated areas in the debate of women writers and finding balance. Nick gladly picks up most of the domestic duties when he is home because he knows that I need to focus on writing when I can. He disappears with Isaiah for hours at a time so I have a quiet office in the house and only interrupts to see how I’m doing, to rub my back, look over my shoulder and make a short quip about turning out a bestseller so we can retire. (My usual reply is a laugh, “With the content I’m interested in? Hardly going to make us rich.”) But more than that and what usually carries me is that he gets it. He sometimes doesn’t like it but he gets it. He gets that writers often wonder away to love a character instead of a human being next to you. He gets that I spend a majority of my time doing unpaid work and picks up the slack, watches our budget, and takes on more because of the understood covenant between mother writer and her work. He gets it and the balance, the ever so fragile balance, is sustained when your partner understands the psychological, emotional, and financial sacrifices that need to be made in the name of creative work.
The community, village, partner, and family we create is just as critical to the food we put in our bodies, the amount of sleep we try to get, and the oxygen we take in for creative work. Emotional support is amazing, but the practical resourceful help that partners give – without tricks or guilt trips – cannot be overstated in the mother writer role.
The balance of parenting, for those in partnered relationships and nuclear families, has to be shared. It must be shared. I’m not convinced that balance can be struck without actualizing that in your family. And I simply refuse to normalize a state of imbalance; it is not an option for me. What turns that refusal into a lived reality is a partner who refuses gendered imbalance as well.
Tweetit was about ten years ago that i received a certain letter from nick
and he used a phrase that i haven’t forgotten after all these years. he wrote, “today was such a beautiful day and yet i know that it’s also a day that i’ll likely never remember.” i remember reading that sentence and being struck by its complexity about the gift of our lives, compounded by our inability to remember much of it.
today was like one of those days. i would call it a perfect day in my little life // perfection, as in, i had a day that perfectly reflects the joy in my current life situation. not the absence of flaw. //
nick was off with his best buds, enjoying the morning after cinco de mayo in pittsburgh. and i was left with nothing but a bouncing two year old with an expanding vocabulary and eroding interest in naps, along with one of the most gorgeous weather days cleveland has ever seen. i kept wishing my skin had a sensory camera to capture the sweet lavender in the air, the near aqua skyline, and fresh burst of lime green trees. it was almost unreal, my eyes kept scanning the horizon of wherever I was, i just wanted to keep taking it in.
isaiah wondered into my room when he woke up and proceeded to tell him me that he did NOT want to go to church. i wasn’t alarmed. he also says that he doesn’t like pizza and i know that is definitely not true.
i spoke sternly to isaiah to stop playing with my glasses case because the cleaning cloth i stored inside the case was missing and i knew he was fond of opening and closing it when i wasn’t looking. as i turned my back on his somber face, i wondered if i had come down too hard on him. the thought evaporated as he gleefully called my attention, “mama! look!” as he held the small piece of cloth that had been missing. “it was on your chair!” he said proudly.
i couldn’t believe he found it.
I packed cheerios (“mama! that’s too much cheerios!” he said as i filled the sandwich bag) and pretzel rods: his staple church food. i loaded him in his red wagon, strapped him in, and tossed his diaper bag and my monstrous purse in the empty seat and began the slow wagon walk to church, closing my eyes into the wind. the quiet was delicious.
we parked the wagon in the back of the church and slipped into the cry room where isaiah has learned to behave quite well for an hour mass, including shaking hands and giving peace greetings.
we headed home.
we danced in the kitchen to FM radio and changed our clothes to play outside. it was only 10:30am and i felt he and i had already loved each other and the world more than three times over. our heads were delirious with excitement over nothing.
i had more energy than i knew what to do with and washed the windows outside while isaiah trotted back and forth on the lawn, pretending to mow it. after i dragged his miniature basketball hoop to the front stoop and began taking impossible shots from the lawn, isaiah quickly learned context as i shouted, OH MONEY! when the ball swooshed through the net.
he ran around dunking it screaming MONEY! MONEY! MONEY! for ten minutes.
the neighbors think we’re wack.
then our favorite next door neighbor, ms. m., came outside and we talked on and off while we both worked on our homes and trees, weeds and herbs. isaiah talked to her as well:
ms. m: how are you isaiah?
isaaiah: great! did you see squirrel in tree?
ms. m: the squirrel? oh yes. all the time. they run everywhere. they’re so…so…oh what’s the word?
ms. m and i laughed for a good several minutes at isaiah’s vocabulary suggestion.
as i pruned the trees that draped from our property onto ms. m’s driveway, isaiah dutifully picked up the long branches and put them in a pile. this went on a few hours. neighborly exchanges, borrowing tools.
when we went inside, i was shocked that i was already 3pm but isaiah’s tired hungry face didn’t lie.
i filled a plate with a sandwich and a few of his favorite treats, marshmallows. a glass of milk within arms length. within minutes the food was gone. i turned around to ask him if he wanted more and his head was hanging low, his eyes half closed.
the kid was asleep on the table.
i gently picked him up and his head rolled onto my shoulder and brought him upstairs. he smelled of the earth, spring, and toddler sweat. a perfume of boyhood and love. i laid him in his bed, second guessing if i should change him. he was adorable, but filthy. for once i let him be dirty. i took off his sandals and his fat sweaty toes instantly took a breath. his eyes never once opened.
i wandered to the kitchen, wondering how my allergies had not yet kicked in at all, or my seasonal asthma. as i chopped a baby eggplant and sautéed it with garbanzo beans, i nonchalantly labeled it a miracle from god. i tossed the eggplant and beans over small serving of golden fluffy couscous and a king size bed of mixed greens and ate until my heart’s content, feeling like my appetite sharpened from so many hours in the sun. as i admired the rare occasion that our house was tidy and our landscaping was reasonably under control, i heard a familiar laughter in the driveway.
nick was home.
as we exchanged updates about our weekend, we laughed like a couple on a date, when everything someone says is fascinating yet familiar which makes you laugh even harder.
as i laid back in the couch, i heard nick rustle and felt him gently lay his head on my chest. quiet.
we could feel the spring wind coming through the newly washed windows. a small kiss. made me think that our 7 year anniversary is in a few weeks and felt, in that moment, “this is exactly why we got married. to have this moment right now.”
and before i could tell him that, i heard the pitter patter of excited feet, the small wood groan of a door on a rusty hinge, and a voice, “mama? mama?”
i walked up the stairs and turned the corner to find two huge brown eyes looking for me. they were my eyes, but nick’s expression. dark pupils, an unassuming spirit lingered behind them. his father’s son indeed.
nick went into laundry gear and I went on a bike ride. a 43 minute cruise of the noiseless streets, with a scant showing of human existence. everyone seemed to be elsewhere in the world. i didn’t mind.
i strapped on my heart monitor to keep track of my workout pace and challenged every hill i could find. push. push. push. puuuussshhh.
when i came home, isaiah met me at the door, squealing and nick was on the phone with his parents. he was updating about our impending events. my father’s 70th birthday party. nick’s graduation and graduation party the following weekend. then memorial weekend. it was a busy time.
isaiah came outside to help me put my bike away and somehow found the remnants of the costume he used when making a snowman. he flopped on the hat and swung the red scarf around his neck. and then he grabbed the shovel out of the driveway. as i swept the helicopter leaves, nick talked on the phone, and isaiah the snowman started shoveling non existent snow, my heart swelled.
an ordinary sunday evening at dusk, with no particular reason to be grateful except that’s all my heart could muster. even this photo of isaiah is ordinary. slightly fuzzy, the lighting off, begging to be sharpened, but it’s real. it’s perfectly imperfect. it’s isaiah. it’s life.
i whirled a spaghetti and garlic bread dinner as “a league of their own” – nick’s favorite movie – came on tv. we ate, chatted, joked. isaiah tried out his newly cemented manners, “i don’t like this anymore, thank you.” as he pushed his plate as far away from him as possible when he was done eating.
we watched the rest of the movie, dancing during commercials and tickling each other until someone screamed STOP.
and then we ate vanilla ice cream with sprinkles before showers, prayers, and bedtime.
and now i write this.
i write this not to share what a grand life i have. i write this not to throw joy in your face if you feel joyless. i don’t even write this for anyone else but myself. to remind myself that every once in a while, a day, a moment comes along that gives us amnesia. it has no memory of what brought us to that day, it only knows what is happening in real time. in those rare moments, there is no past or future, or even whimsical dreams. there is only now.
i write that moment down now so i can have that fraction recorded somewhere. i write it because i know that most things written today are about anything but what i just wrote: un-newsworthy events that affirm every goodness still in the world. a sunny day. a child’s innocence. gardening. dirty feet. a conversation. spaghetti. a photo taken. scrubbing a toddler clean.
and these things i write are only a handful of the million moments i experienced today, but already, i cannot remember all that took place. i can’t remember what isaiah said to me after i asked him if he wanted strawberry milk. (but i do remember the face he made when he licked the inside of a lemon for the first time last night) i can’t remember what my neighbor shared as we exchanged parenting stories. i don’t even recall what i wore today.
each thing was done with love and gratitude.
//it was a perfect day//
TweetIsaiah keeps bumping his head. And he’s ready to get out of his crib.
When he sees something that spilled he says, “AIGH NAKU,” which in Tagalog is equivalent to Oh My Goodness.
He’s talking in English, but uses Spanish and Tagalog words smoothly in his language development.
During dinner when I was belting out Journey songs he says from the other room, “Excuse me, Mama. Please be quiet.”
When he cries it’s because he can’t reach the iPod to play more songs that he likes to dance to.
When he empties his bottle and asks for more milk I say, “We’re out of milk” he responds, “Oh. Sorry.”
When I’m feeling low while I watch the news and the sad things happening in the world, he wanders in my periphery, holds up an empty plastic bottle and cheerfully says, “RECYCLE!”
Before meals we pray, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” he clasps his chubby hands together and says very loudly, “GOD.” Nothing more. That’s the prayer.
When he sees my epipen in my medicine basket, he sticks out his index finger at me and says very matter of factly, “NOT A TOY!”
And the thing that most recently captures my heart is his very sleepy kiss and soft words, “Loff you, Mama.”
I loff you too, Baby.
TweetIt’s Friday and there’s no better picture to accurately depict the Friday relief and excitement than this cartoony picture of Isaiah.
A few nights ago, we were playing with the different features of my Christmas gift – our new computer – and Isaiah got pretty excited over the different scenes and tones the pictures can be set in. This overly exposed scene was his favorite. He looks how I feel inside: YES! I got through another week of work, parenting, surviving another week of winter, and listening to the Republican debates! I DID IT! GO ME!
Watching Isaiah grow into his own person is such a paradoxical experience. He is most certainly his own self, that is clear. And he says things like, “Isaiah do it.” Meaning, “HANDS OFF MOM. I CAN BRUSH MY OWN TEETH.” Or “Forget your hand, Dad, I know what a railing is!”
But the majority of things he says are mimicking what’s around him, especially language. Just yesterday, he asked to watch a Muppet video on YouTube and when the link was a little slow, I fussed around with the mouse and before the electricity from my brain sent the message to move my tongue to say the words, Isaiah sighs, “Come on, come on, COME ON!” I looked at him strangely. Yeah, I guess I say that a lot when the internet takes forever. (Forever: 39 seconds)
Toddlers are walking mirrors and sponges and it FREAKS ME OUT that they learn instantaneously when and how to repeat something in an appropriate situation. They can read the emotional situation and deliver the comment they heard, just like it was originally spoken. So, yeah, he’s his own person – he’s got his organs, preferences, room – but everything he DOES reflects me or Nick to some extent. Now that’s some scary shit right there. Seeing myself in a 2 year old? S-C-A-R-Y.
But it’s a joy. JOY. And that’s an unexpected part of parenting that I wasn’t counting on: the joy! The little things. I was changing him after a nap and I asked how his day was going thus far at 5pm and he goes, “Oh, I just love it.” A few hours later, he picked up an empty gatorade bottle and says, “Recycle.” And then he wore my high heels for 15 minutes while I cooked dinner.
*D my therapist says to look into our current moment with as much passion and intensity as we look to the past and future. If we all did this, we would relinquish control over the things we do not have power over or cannot change. Be present, she says, to only what you can presently know and see.
What I know and see is how fast 2 years of my life has gone with Isaiah. In the blink of an eye and in the swift move of parenting amnesia (I can’t remember what it was like to breastfeed or put him in a carrier), he’s a little human asking for juice and crackers at night, wailing when I turn off the radio because it’s time to say goodnight. Just like that (snap of the fingers) his onuses are too tight, his pants are too short, and he’s feeding himself with a fork and spoon.
Nick took the opportunity to clean out the basement this week (what a great guy, I’d never think to do that on my day off), and I was admiring his work, I saw all these baby toys, bottles, and paraphernalia were outgrew. No more boppy pillow, no crib bumper, no walker. Being a parent is so reactionary and immediate that it’s hard to retain any memory of what you did before. All you really know is how to do NOW. And given D*’s advice about staying in the present, that relationship seems perfectly complimentary.
Be present. In the blink of an eye, it’ll be ten years from now with no memory of today.
TweetThis article has been floating around quite a bit and since it’s on parenting and relationships, felt an overwhelming need to respond and clarify my position on the relationship and friendship changes when a person has a child.
1. Why did you decide to have a kid anyway if you’re so stressed out? You chose this.
Response: Why did you decide to get up out of bed this morning if you knew that struggle and pain and work lie ahead of you? For many of us, most of our lives are building blocks of choices and while having children (for most ) IS indeed a choice. It’s also a blinded choice where you do not know how you will navigate it until you are in the drivers’ seat going 50 miles per hours on a road laden with oil.
2. I hate kids.
Response: I myself personally am not a kid person. I’m nuts about my own kid, and I have come to appreciate things about having a child that make me more sensitive and aware to the world around me, but hating kids is like going around to a friend caring for a parent and saying, “God, I hate old people.” When is it acceptable to hate children? Because they can’t wipe their noses and drool on your work clothes before you even go out the door? They’re PEOPLE, not pets.
3. It’s going to be a late night at the bar, soooooo, I hope you can make it. *sarcastic tone*
Response: I actually go to bed really late because I have a spouse in graduate school who is up pretty late working on his papers. And I have a full time job in addition to researching and writing my own projects. I can see why you’d assume that, but I’m tired because I live my life quite fully. I stopped measuring life by my alcohol tolerance when I affirmed myself as a writer, not a mother.
4. What happened to you? You used to be fun.
Response: Change is not just Obama jargon. Change is a part of life. Interdependent families, with two partners dedicated to the livelihood of another human takes an enormous toll on your life. You pay with time, energy, and brain space. “Fun” as defined by late nights, spending money, traveling changes, spontaneity transforms over time. But I don’t know if that’s all parenting related. It’s like how making out in a twin bed was really hot when you’re 20 years old. At 32, that just sounds ridiculously uncomfortable. Long, deep kisses in a car before your partner goes off to work? Um, yeah. That’s hot. And still a lot of fun.
5. Why does everything revolve around your kid?
Response: See answer #2. Kids are people. They’re as diverse as they are curious, and they change daily. Children are not soon-to-be adults. They are fully formed, fully ready, fully alive. And they require attention from the moment they wake to the moment they fall asleep. And even then you’re making sure they’re still breathing at night when you watch them sleep. If it’s not children, others find vices and projects that require attention: caretaking, work, social lives, gardens, reading, fitness. People fill their lives with all kinds of time-consuming efforts. A child, a person, has feelings, thoughts, questions, and energy that is directed at their parents. They get priority.
6. You need a box of condoms. (Usually directed at families with multiple children.)
Response: It IS possible that having more than 2 children in the United States of America is actually NOT caused by mental illness.
Choice can be exercised in the refraining of reproduction, choosing how and when to reproduce, and how many offspring you’d like to have. Some people actually decide, and love, to have big families. It’s true. And they’re not all trying to get a reality TV show, either.
7. Do you want more?
Response: Families come in all sizes and shapes and colors. For me, I don’t know if I want to have more. I really love enjoying my son at every stage he is at and giving him as much attention and love as I can possible shower on him. I don’t buy that you have to give a child a sibling to be “normal.” I don’t buy that you should give birth relatively close in years so your children will “get along” and have one another to grow up with and play. Too often, I hear friends who are parents go with the flow and forget that having #2 #3 #4 is just as much and as big of a choice as deciding to become a parent. But my decision to become a parent of one doesn’t mean I want to be a parent of 5. Let me figure it out. I’ll know when I know. And, contrary to what a lot of people think, women don’t have as much control over their fertility as you’d like to think.
8. I understand.
Response: No you don’t. Just like how I don’t understand pre-school teachers. I will never get how people can do certain things day in and day out. Why pretend you know what it’s like to have and choose this responsibility of parenting? You didn’t choose it, so why say you do? The best is to say, “That sounds like a lot. I’m sure you’ll get through it just fine!”
9. I’m important, too.
Who says you’re not? Most of my childfree friends CHOOSE to be childfree, but also feel this sudden urge to petition all their childfree peeps and claim a day of importance. The nuclear family unit is dissolving. Today “families of origin/families related by blood” are different than “families of choice” and this distinction is important. No matter where we are, we need family. We need a group of people to support us and hold us when times are shitty. Family/community is one of the few places to be affirmed of our value and worth. If you find yourself saying this a lot, it has little to do with my choice to be a mom. It’s more to do with your need to find a group of people who love you.
10. Why don’t you have time for me anymore?
Response: Dude. I ask myself that very same question every. single. day. Get in line. It’s not all about you. Or me. Or the kid. It’s about transition, changing priorities, proximity, new demands, and juggling self, health, relationships, and friendships. Adjust your expectations of me. That’s what I had to do.
TweetI took Isaiah to the park this evening, trying to take advantage of the 74 degree evening. We lapped the empty baseball diamond as I showed him how to hit a homer, run the bases, and jump up and down at home plate. He giggled furiously.
He got so hyper so started running away from me, in ecstacy, squealing all the way. He got a little far from me and I noticed he was heading toward a grass puddle of rain water. I started after him, “ISAIAH!” I called, but, thinking this is more baseball fun, starts running even faster away from me.
In my attempt to grab him before he hit the puddle, I myself find myself falling, ass on the ground, then on my right side, sliding 3 feet in a mud pile of God only knows what. Involuntarily I yell SHIT as I look at my work clothes now caked in mud.
Isaiah just looked at me with big eyes, “Home?”
It takes a village, people…
TweetActual thought that was processed in my head an hour ago:
If you think it’s easy to travel with a child – a child who cannot eat on their own, drink on their own, has a handful of words that are cute but otherwise unrecognizable to the human ear, wears a disposable diaper that must be changed every 2 hours, cannot effectively communicate their immediate needs that contributes to their overall well-being, needs stimulating or playful gadgets to spend the hours on a plane or in a car – you are an idiot.
TweetI get that most books and info centers just want to help. I get it. I get that most parents truly do worry their lives away about whether the foods they’re feeding their kids are right, about whether the car seat will protect them in side collision, and whether their speech and mobility coordination is on task or below average. I get that most information and data is used for two purposes: to comfort or to instill fear.
In my email inbox, I am flooded – on a regular basis – by emails from baby centers, parenting magazine, and mother-centered orgs. And I noticed that they usually put a question in the very beginning of that email, either the first line of the email or in the subject header.
“IS YOUR TODDLER EATING RIGHT?”
“IS YOUR CHILD SHOWING SIGNS OF FILL-IN-THE-BLANK-WITH-SOMETHING-THAT-IS-INCURABLE?”
“WHY WON’T JOHNNY PLAY WITH OTHER KIDS?”
And here’s my own question: Have you young parents ever noticed how most “help” books/emails/brochures engage readers by playing on your natural fears as a parent? In your desire for a “normal” child? (So to reassure yourself that you are a “normal” parent?”)
Well, I’ve noticed it and it’s starting to get to me.
Being a parent means living in the forest of worry. I worry. All the time. I worry about Isaiah’s future. I worry that he won’t have friends. I worry he’ll develop some kind of mental or learning disability. I worry he’ll accidentally ingest a peanut and not have anyone around to help him or know what to do.
I’m his mother, of course I worry.
But there’s a line between worry and fear. And I’m giving up the “fear” part. I decided this yesterday when Isaiah laughed for about an hour straight. Since the weather has decided that spring is allowed in Cleveland, Isaiah has spent much of his time outdoors, in the grass, absorbing sun and Vitamin D — and the smallest little things (squirrels, feathers, DOGGIES!, blowing leaves, bark, whistling grass, and peaceful neighbors) make his giddy with giggling.
I looked at him and thought, “I think I’m doing alright if he’s this joyful.”
Isaiah is enjoying life, every little inch of it. And I decided to be the kind of mother that enjoyed it right along with him. One of the first steps is knowing that there is no “normal” parent and no “normal” child. We hope and pray that we, Nick and I, continue to find and develop ourselves as adults and that Isaiah does the same at each stage of his life. The worry is inevitable, but the fear is not.
Letting go of the fear never felt so nice.
Tweet There was a question posed to new mothers, “What do you wish you would have been told?”
This was my answer.
Much love and respect to Mai’a Williams and her endless barrage of transformative questions.
TweetThere’s nothing sexy about pain. There’s nothing even remotely redeeming, glorified, cute, or remarkable about pain.
I came into this realization quite quickly Sunday morning when I was dressing Isaiah for mass. I began lowering him to the floor, felt a horribly familiar pop! in my lower back and I immediately recognized that telling radiating heat that spread throughout my lumbar region as I fell on one knee. Isaiah screamed in my ear as he harmlessly wobbled back from me so he peer into my face to see what was wrong. All he could see was my face going paler by the second and my breath quicken in short spurts and outbursts, trying to control the pain.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
Not again. Not again. Not again. NOT AGAIN.
I just got back to the gym this week. I just started getting back on the treadmill, back in the zumba studio, back for my first swim in the pool. I just …
I just got over my back injury from last month.
Remembering my phone was in the inner pocket of my purse, I slowly walked to my purse on the ground and gently leaned forward. I reached and immediately fell and screamed in pain.
I somehow got my phone, I don’t remember how. (A friend told me that when her back went out, she blacked out from the pain.) I remember feeling calmed by the smooth surface of my phone, thanking God it was charged and relieved that Nick was only 5 minutes into his day, ahead of me, and on his way to work. I whispered frantically to Isaiah that everything was fine and threw him a toy as I winced in pain. He hobbled away, whimpering at the site of his mother in such disarray and distraction.
I burst into tears and could barely get the words out to Nick, “My back…w-w-went ou-ou-out a-a-a-gain…”
It was at that moment that I retreated from the world, the pain was overwhelming, almost blinding.
A co-worker told me later she saw Nick walking on the street when he was talking to me, all dressed up for work, briefcase in hand, but in an unusual walking speed, “a near run” she told me. So she stopped and offered him a ride to wherever he was rushing to. “Home,” he said, “Leese threw her back out again.”
It’s hormones, my chiropractor told me yesterday. All the hormones and chemicals that loosen the pelvis and back, readying the body to deliver a baby, are still in your body and, likely, the lumbar region isn’t as tight as it was before and isn’t as strong. Doing household chores and lifting things can sprain, strain, and injure the lower back, says the doc.
All of this from hormones? Still? It’s been 14 months.
Hormones and chemicals can linger in your body, doc says.
A number of friends – all who have given birth in the past two years – have confided of their recent and surprising chronic lower back pain, some so severe that it prevents mobility. Few have found comfort. All have tried natural healing, gym trainers, chiropractors, physical therapists. This strange community of back pain mothers comforts me.
I toss two pills of Alleve in my mouth and tried to smile at Isaiah in the kitchen. He put his chubby arms up for me to carry him and starts grabbing my clothes for leverage, like trying to climb a tree. Nick immediately scooped him up and tries to cheer him up with a jolly, overly boisterous voice. The shriek out of Isaiah’s mouth was one I could interpret instantly, “What’s the matter with you? Why won’t you pick me up?” He’s taken away from me and, out of nowhere, I have an image of him being taken away from me the moment he was born when all I wanted to do was hold him. I shake my head, and gently stir the boiling orzo.
Is this what birthing mothers deal with, I asked my head as I stare at the back of Nick’s body. His is so strong, so solid. Simply clad in jeans and a white tshirt, Nick’s body looked beautiful to me; his wide and capable back seemed fearless. His stride was fluid, like a complicated piece of piano music keyed effortlessly. I look down at my body. A staccato mess of surgeries, stretch marks, and my skin’s opinion of the pregnancy weight gain and loss. I see my scarred belly from three surgeries with another scheduled in the summer to fix an umbilical hernia. My inner eye sees an exhausted and red lumbar region, a weakened lower back throbbing with stubborn stiffness. It strikes me, with almost a pin needle acuteness, that Nick’s body hadn’t changed at all since we had Isaiah. Nick’s body remained intact, with no incisions, no stretches, no torn anything.
I pause in that realization.
His tongue had never mistaken water for metallic liquid. His nose never became so sensitive as to be able to detect the cleaning fluid on the floor of a grocer. His heart ventricles never widened to allow more blood flow. His calves and feet never swelled with unbearable water retention. His chest never billowed with heart burn. His mind never clouded with postpartum depression. His nipples never cracked with pain so deep that his shoulders shuddered. His skin never broke out in rashes. He never vomited from anesthesia or used his foreman to protect a 6 inch abdominal incision against a winter chill. He never had a catheter put in at the same time as a suppository while compressors pumped blood away from his legs. He never had an abrasion in the back of his eye because the surgeons forgot to completely close and protect his eyes before surgery. He never had to take pills to stop, prompt, or control a menstrual cycle. He never felt a flutter of life in his belly or feel the hiccup of a new being inside his womb.
Because he doesn’t have a womb.
Nick did and does everything a parent could possibly do. He transformed his emotions, his life, his commitments, and reformed his schedule to accommodate me and every little thing I needed throughout my pregnancy and birthing experience. He respects anything I tell him or request. Nick continuously and gladly lays in a metaphorical railroad track for me and our son. If that’s what needs to happen, that’s what I will do, he says.
But in the confines of my bed, nursing this near paralysis, when I hear Isaiah’s laughter and Nick’s efforts to keep him occupied, I realize, with ringing clarity something that I could not have known or respected prior to going through it myself: our bodies are entirely different and our needs are entirely different. My body endured all of this and my body cried differently than his. I knew this beforehand, but I never really Knew It beforehand. Maybe my body never really cried until I became a mother.
So this difference between Nick and I exists. It exists as sharp as a paring knife, as real as our love. That difference – that my body changed while his did not – initially sprouted a rocketing resentment against anything him, society, and anyone else that didn’t Get It. It = women’s bodies are a terrain that only we ourselves can travel. It is not for anyone to lay laws upon. It is not to be conquered, violated, disposed, or mishandled. Along with the resentment, I also noticed a widening reverence for my body. From which new life travels, the woman’s body is the canal to existence. It is from our very bones, the calcium of our teeth, the marrow of our own breath that the woman’s body offers and sustains a new being. The woman’s body is the epitome of automated self-sacrifice. It is the ground zero of renewal — if the environment agrees that her life is valuable and the time to recover is respected. We women, we give birth. And we are also born into a new identity and a new body.
Are there two more powerful and daunting words in the English language?
But we women are also prone to set back and injury because of what our spines uphold. Our bellies swell with life and our spines pull back to hold us up and in shape. Sometimes, though, the spine gives way and loses its strength.
Pain, whether it’s the lower back or elbow, or migraine, or menstrual, is a debilitating state of existence. Not because of the physical pain itself. It’s debilitating because chronic or severe pain draws our minds inward, incapable of fully giving of ourselves to anything or anyone else. In pain, I become unlike myself. I don’t unravel. I do the opposite, I am mummified. Most people, but especially me, are social beings. I feel endorphins from conversation, laughter, and intellectual exchange. However, in the confines of a bed and four walls, my spirit goes down. My intellect goes dim and my emotions begin to go dark. Swathed and cast in my own stillness and short breaths, pain dictates my freedom. I no longer care about anything. All that matters is finding a pain-free, mobile existence. Which is why when I check all my social media outlets – email, Facebook, Twitter, newsfeeds, and listserves – I shake my head that the world is celebrating Mardi Gras and International Women’s Day. I wish I had the energy to care. I find all kinds of interesting stuff to read, but before my mind digests in the information, my back spasms again and I nearly drop my laptop in shock.
Pain draws us inward.
So for me, today, the one day (unfortunately) that calls women from all over the world to stand together, I lie in bed, with my eyes closed, waiting for relief. Luckily, for me, I am certain of two things:
patience and writing can be worked on in bed
I do and can stand up for women’s rights and gender justice on a daily basis. But right now, regaining my spiritual and psychological composure after a back injury and remembering the awesome capacity of a woman’s body seems like my fight for today.
Tomorrow it may be something else.