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Archive for the ‘Motherhood’ Category

Tonight I’m lying alone in my bed, much as I was 16 years ago, with a minor ache or soreness around the right side of my rib cage. Then, it was his feet or his back, maybe. I don’t actually know. Some part of his tiny self always lodged under the right side of my ribs.

I constantly had to stretch and arch back while using my hands to massage and nudge him down and over to a different spot. He would flip-flop and roll around and I would see belly waves of protest as he repositioned discovering yet another pokey tiny baby part to jam under my right ribs. I’ll never know why that was his spot. 

Sixteen years ago tonight was pure raw pain and panic. Memories morph between foggy shapes and colors, voices coming and going. There are deafening mechanical beeps and whirs from all the machines attached to me. Nurses in the hallway shout and cackle to one another, oblivious, yet somehow still unable to drown out the loudest, most unnerving of the sounds. The absence of a sound. The vacancy where I should have heard the swift swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of a thriving neonatal heartbeat. 

I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but in my memory the morphine drip has a distinct odor. It smells like chemical death as I lay there pressing the button again and again and again praying for the IV cocktail to release me from the horror of my present reality. 

It didn’t.

But even through my drug and grief induced stupor, sometimes the vividness of a moment rises through the haze. I can close my eyes and I’m back in that cavernous hospital room. The blood pressure cuff is rhythmically crushing my right arm to the point that my fingers purple and bulge. Somewhere nearby there’s a new-for-the-occasion, terry cloth, powder blue robe that still hangs lifeless on the back of my bedroom door all these years later. Artificially induced labor contracts my body all night long preventing sleep–despite the gallons of morphine I must have absorbed. It’s not enough to soothe the screaming chasm of a broken heart. 

No drug would ever be enough for that. 

Tonight’s minor ache is a deliberate pain invoked as an outward, visible commemoration of that indelible internal scar. Tonight’s pain is nothing by comparison, yet it’s a poignant and bittersweet reminder. It’s a necessary connection. 

Pain is interesting. Usually we want to dull the pain. Or hide it. Or forget it. Tonight I’m grateful for pain. I’m grateful for pain that connects and reminds and softens. The discomfort of his tiny body ramming into the same spot of my ribs all day every day for nine months is now one of my most cherished, and painful, memories. 

Thus, I have honored him with an outward symbol of the major memory that unites us. 


We are encircled by snowdrop flowers that bloom every year around his birthday. 

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Fifteen

My daughter turned 15 yesterday. She’s had a boyfriend for several weeks; went to the Snowball dance with him at school last weekend; has Valentine’s Day plans with him.

Her dad gave her tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago as her Christmas and birthday gifts combined. So she was in Chicago with him yesterday. She promised to take lots of pictures and send them to me. She sent one, and then I didn’t hear from her all weekend until I had to text her dad to make sure everything was ok. She finally wrote and said she just kept getting distracted. She was only home for an hour and a half before it was time for her and her brothers to leave and stay at their dad’s house for the next three weeks. She would not hug me to say hello or goodbye. She was pissed at me because I wouldn’t stop the cycle of laundry I was in the middle of so that she could run her own load through. I explained to her that I’d been doing laundry all day and had washed and folded all of her and her brothers’ stuff so that they’d have plenty to take to their dad’s for the next three weeks. Didn’t matter. She was still pissed that she couldn’t immediately wash the clothes she’d taken with her for the weekend. She humphed out the door tonight without a goodbye or a backward glance.

These next three weeks are the longest my kids and I have ever been apart. I’m sure it matters less to them than to me. But in fifteen years as a mother, the longest I’ve been away from my kids is two weeks when I visited Italy, and despite having a great time there, I broke down several times from missing them and not having a strong enough sense of myself to properly exist day-to-day without having them around to take care of. I’m not going to have the distraction of a beautiful foreign country to engage me over the next three weeks. Just work and canceling my student status at Pitt–again.

Yesterday was hard. Fifteen years as someone’s mother seems like it should mean something. I did fifteen years worth of work on her, but the celebration was with her dad. He takes her to musicals that she and I love. He takes her to salons to get her hair done. He takes her for manicures and clothes shopping. I only have one daughter. And somehow, he gets to do all these fun firsts with her.  I just don’t understand what all the work and effort is for. Other people get the payoff. Other people get the credit and the one person I had hoped all my effort would matter to doesn’t give a shit whether I’m present or not.

It’s not her fault that it all feels hard for me. It’s not her fault that the death of the child before her placed so much importance and longing and redemption on her whole existence. It’s not her fault that she always felt more special, more necessary, more anticipated as a result of the pain and the lack that preceded her. It’s not her fault and it’s not fair to her that I needed her. That I needed her tiny new life to fill in the enormous throbbing void left in my soul.

None of it is fair.

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