Image description: Black and white sketch of a pregnant body in profile. Inside the belly is a dark swirl of pen marks.
Rumor has it I was the only person present at my birth. I was supposed to be born 10 days later, but my mom wanted me out of her body so the doctors induced her early. I was her third child after multiple rounds of fertility treatments, and the pain of hosting me was nearly unbearable. By the end of nine months, she had torn a muscle in her stomach and her formerly slim runner’s body was pushing 200 pounds. She wanted me gone before I was ever really there.
When the induction day came, my mother’s epidural was placed too high in her spine, effectively blocking any sensation from the chest down. Laying in the hospital bed, unable to move, she watched the fetal monitor. The waves on the monitor would skyrocket every minute or two, each one indicating a contraction. Worried, but unable to feel anything, my mom asked the nurse to check in between the stirrups. The nurse assured her I wasn’t coming for a few more hours; there was nothing to worry about.
And yet there I was, already halfway out. I was at my most vulnerable and the people who were supposed to take care of me were unaware of my imminent existence. This theme would precede a lot of my life experiences.
When I think of my mom, I think of her in stories like this one. Stories of her childhood, her first love, her divorce from my father and the death of her own. She tells us about her cancer, her first car, her poetic mother. They give me a feeling I have never been able to name. Each story is laced with a memory I can taste and touch and feel in my bones, but there are no words to describe the weight in my chest. The story of my birth is no exception. My existence is inextricably tied to hers. I think that’s why I feel her stories, her life, as if they were my own.
I believed I was unwanted by my mother for most of my life. I can’t remember exactly when that feeling started, but it built up over time, before I had the words for it. Suddenly I was 16 trying to navigate my own existence, which is hard to do when you’ve lived your life under the pretense that it wasn’t wanted.
She tells us that all she ever wanted in life was to be a wife and a mom. She wanted to be married with kids by the age of 21. She didn’t have her first child, my older brother, until 36 followed by my older sister at 38 and me, at age 40. She was divorced five years later, not long after I had come into the world.
We spent most of my childhood fighting and I was unable to understand exactly why. She kicked me out of the house on my 17th birthday following a series of screaming matches and misperceptions. I was on my own for a year and a half. A reasonable plot point within my personal narrative of Child Unwanted By Mother. It’s been years since we reconciled and we still don’t talk about that time in either of our lives, or what we did while we were gone.
Since then, our relationship has consisted of mutual wariness, freckled with the occasional sweet moment and happy incident, both of us refusing to acknowledge the tenderness those times hold. If there is one thing I can be sure I learned from my mother, it’s her passive aggressive avoidance techniques.
My recent shift in thought is what I like to call The Reckoning, capital R. My mom had to take fertility treatments to get pregnant with me and both of my siblings. Three times she took pills and got shots and drank special concoctions of Mucinex and sat in funny positions after sex. She molded and stretched her body in unpredictable ways just to bring me into the world. She willingly let an alien take over her body for months, three different times. All she ever wanted to be was a mom. I spent so much of my life believing I was unloved by her until I realized it’s possible I am all she’s ever wanted.
It was difficult to come to terms with this thought. It may be true that I am all she ever wanted, but she still hurt me in ways that only a mother can. She was trying to love me in a language that I did not speak.
My mother did the best she could, loving me within her own capacity. And maybe her capacity didn’t match what I needed.
But she didn’t know any better. She didn’t have the luxury of learning tenderness, and so it was passed onto me. Creating the opportunity for there to be a tender motherhood for the both of us.