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When does motherhood begin?

September 17, 2008

I realize this is very different for everyone.

Does it begin when you get that positive test? Or the call from your surrogate mother that the procedure was a success? Or the adoption agency informing you that a birth mother has chosen you?

Or is it when you feel the kicks? See your child on the ultrasound machine? Or when you finally hold that precious baby in your arms for the first time?

For me, it was none of those things. I’ve been pretty open about my maternal struggles. How I feel like I was in line for extra boobs when the maternal instinct was passed out. How I didn’t bond with my child for a very long time. How I never wanted to do this.

For me, it happened in the back of an ambulance, beside the gurney that my 8 month old child was strapped to.

I never thought I’d be “that” mom. The one in the back of that ambulance.

Nana had RSV – she was diagnosed right before her first Thanksgiving. The Dr told us she should be fine, but to watch her breathing. The next day she was SO sick. I was so scared. Her breathing became labored and we rushed her to the ER. They took us directly back and immediately starting doing all sorts of things to her. They took her blood and started an IV, got her on oxygen, because her levels were so low. They did a breathing treatment, but it just didn’t help. They decided that she needed to stay, at least over night. Problem was, they didn’t have a pediatric floor. I’ve always kicked myself for this – shouldn’t I have KNOWN that about the hospital? Shouldn’t I have taken her to the right hospital? That has always stayed with me – that I just wasn’t good enough for this. As she had an IV in, and needed to be on oxygen, they had to call an ambulance to transport. Just the word ambulance scared the shit out of me. I didn’t want my baby in there.

We waited around for a while, then they came. I did the “motherly” thing and told McHusband I’d ride with her, and he could follow us. I’ll be painfully honest in that I didn’t want to. I wanted to take the car and drive far away. I didn’t want to DEAL with this at all. It’s hard to admit that now – very hard. Part of me resented her, for getting sick the day before Thanksgiving – the first one we would host at home. I have tears in my eyes right now, hating myself for ever feeling that way.

So, into the ambulance we went. My tiny baby strapped on the gurney, little IV coming out of her arm, so tired because it was 3 in the morning. And we rode.

I stared out the back window, shaking, tired and scared out of my mind. I watched the lights go by, wishing I was in any other vehicle. The EMT tried to talk to me, I wasn’t interested. I was on a roller coaster of emotion and not all of it was nice. I glanced back at the small sleeping form that was my daughter and I became her mother. In that moment, I realized what she meant to me, and what being her mother meant to me. I realized that I couldn’t live without her, and that she was a huge part of me. I realized that I WANTED this, and needed her, more than I’ve ever needed anything in my life. I grabbed her tiny hand, and in sleep it curled around my finger. And I was her mother.

We spent Thanksgiving in the hospital, and ate hamburgers and french fries. My parents came to relieve us for a while, and we showered and changed clothes, headed right back to the hospital. I remember that I hated to put her down in that crib, surrounded by the cold bars. Hated seeing her subjected to the breathing treatments and prodding by the staff. Hated the very smell of the hospital and all it represented. My mother bear came out and I wished I never had to put her down. The day we were released, while we were waiting for the Dr to come and talk to us once more, I was laying on the chair, with her in my lap and we were watching TV, she was drifting off. I remember that was my first real moment of peace, as her mother. It was the first time I felt comfortable in my role and the first time I was excited about what my life would now mean, with her in it.

These admissions were very difficult for me. It’s hard not to be the very image of a perfect mother. It’s hard to admit that it wasn’t love at first sight and that it was a real struggle. But, you can bet your ass I’m every inch her mother.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2008 9:38 pm

    It’s great that you are able to share your story! I am glad something “good” came out of that bad experience for you.

  2. September 17, 2008 10:25 pm

    Jen, OK get ready cause you know my comment is going to turn into a whole post :o)

    How incredibly frightening that must have been for you. I’m crying just reading about it. Thank you for sharing this, and for your honesty. I’ve heard lots of moms who feel similar…that they felt so terrible because it wasn’t love at first sight, that they even felt resentful with their new child. There are all these expectations in our minds and in our culture about motherhood, that I think we often are so much harder on ourselves than we should be.

    When we were trying to decide whether or not to move forward with surrogacy, a very dear friend of mine who happened to be pregnant with her second child took me out to lunch. While I explained all my mental/emotional dilemmas about surrogacy (and adoption which was on the table), she put her hands on her swollen stomach and said, “Tricia, do you really think you become a mother by growing a baby inside you? Even monkeys can have babies. Don’t be a fool,” she said. “It’s not pregnancy or giving birth that makes you a mom, It’s the first time you’re scared out of your mind that your child is ill; all the late night fevers, worrying, bum wiping, etc. That’s what makes someone a mom. It’s those moments when you know your child’s life is more important than your own.”

    Her words were a catalyst for me because I finally realized that just because a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth, she is not automatically a mother, and on the reverse of that…just because I couldn’t get pregnant or give birth, didn’t mean I couldn’t be a mother. It’s the moments like what you experienced…those gut-wrenching eclipses and ah-hah moments when you realized you can’t live without Nana…and it’s all the times since when you’ve wrapped her in your heart…that my friend is when real motherhood starts and how it continues. If it simply started when someone gave birth, we wouldn’t need so many child protective services.

    And with this…I think I’m going to quit blogging and just comment here. I know I get long winded, but it’s meant as a great big hug!

  3. September 18, 2008 7:00 am

    Ditto to Tricia! A hug fir you Jen, thanks for sharing. It really was a nice post. As parents we have so much to worry about, it is not any easy gig!

  4. Wendy permalink
    September 18, 2008 7:35 am

    Dang, make a woman cry at 7:30 am

    Love you.

  5. September 18, 2008 8:50 am

    Every year at our UU church on Mother’s day, our minister asks us to remember all the mothers, in their every guise…the mothers who couldn’t, the mothers who do it, badly, the mothers who aren’t biological mothers, but who mother us anyway. Motherhood means so many things to so many people, who are we to qualify what it should mean to you?

    I know the moments of which you speak, and even though my journey was different, I do know what you mean.

  6. Karen permalink
    September 18, 2008 12:25 pm

    Wow, Jen, what a difficult Thanksgiving. I don’t remember hearing that story, but I’m certainly glad it came out okay.

  7. September 18, 2008 2:30 pm

    Man, I wear make-up for the first day in what might be a year and you’ve plum ruined it!!! Bawling my eyes out here.

    I felt a lot of tugs early on with Olivia, but much of the beginning was going through the motions. I was tired and here was this baby that didn’t really do much. I thought part of my issue was that I ended up with a c-section and didn’t get that special moment where you gush with love as a baby is plopped on your tummy.

    A few weeks after Olivia’s birth a red spot appeared on her lower lip. I thought it was a friction burn from the bottle I had tried to give her when my bb’s were too sore to nurse. Then the spot got bigger and even redder. Within a few weeks I knew my daughter had something growing on her. Was it cancer? Her pediatrician knew right away it was a hemangioma. Whew, not cancer. I’d never heard of them before. Turns out it is a fairly common birthmark where capillaries go haywire and grow rapidly into large masses. It was growing on her lower lip, upper chin, inner cheek and lower gum line. There was no way to know how big it would get, whether or not her breathing would be compromised and if she might have internal hemangiomas as well. Of course, I immediately jumped on Google and scared myself shitless with the images I found. Was this ‘thing’ going to take over my daughter’s face? Would she have health problems? Would people look and point and be mean to her? Mama hen was born that day. Big time!

    Of course, you know she is doing very well now. She is 2 1/2 and her birthmark is starting to shrink and fade. It grew to be quite large, but never affected her overall health. Yes we get stares and comments, but oh what I’ve learned from being her mother that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I thought before motherhood was about teaching things to your kids. Good grief, is it ever the other way around or what?!!!

  8. molly permalink
    September 18, 2008 10:48 pm

    Arwen also had RSV. It was a life-changing experience for me. I’d love to hear from you…..please e-mail. 🙂

  9. Jessica permalink
    September 19, 2008 9:10 am

    Very touching story, it made me cry.
    Jess

  10. September 19, 2008 9:05 pm

    What a scary experience! Sometimes it just takes one single moment and it just hits you.

  11. Amy permalink
    September 22, 2008 10:30 am

    Jen, thank you for being so honest about all of these conflicting emotions we have as parents. I am thankful to know there are people like you out there who have felt the way I do. Most people never admit this stuff! Thanks again.

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