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Friday, March 1, 2019

Birthing Adults

What a weird era of life.  Perhaps it is because I am currently taking a course on rites of passage, but as I drove over 3,000 miles last week, carting my two oldest children to a very official college visit and music scholarship audition at their school of choice that was once relatively close to home but is now incredibly far away, I kept thinking to myself, “I feel like I am pregnant all over again.”

Stay with me.  I understand how very bizarre that sounds.

There I was, in this closely confined space, when out of nowhere it suddenly felt like all of their hopes and dreams for the future that have been wrapped up inside of me were about to come spilling out in a graphic and violent manner.  I didn’t tell them this.  I was driving.  It would do none of us any good if I became a puddle of tears on the side of the road.  And that is pretty much par for the course on how this Mama does life.  I feel very deeply (uncharacteristically so of most humans), but I can stuff it (believe it or not).

I have given (literal) birth to five children.  Each one of their stories is different, and if you have read me for long, you are probably familiar with them.  I’m not going to take the time to give you the full versions here, today, but there are, indeed, some odd parallels to this new ‘birthing’ experience.  Let us start with ‘the boy.’

After 2 ½ years of trying, it was hard to believe he was coming into existence at all.  I waited a long time to tell anyone.  It was easier to grasp the reality of him when I began to feel him kick, and I knew he was OK when I could see him moving in my body.  There was a certain degree of panic that accompanied any span of time without movement.  It was a difficult pregnancy.  The boy came into the world with a security guard posted at my hospital room door.  You can’t make this stuff up.  It felt like an easy delivery, even though his little body ripped mine all the way through.  I couldn’t hold him for an hour, because there were so many stitches.  It took the medical staff some time to convince me that I could accept pain medication during that process, because I had been so adamant about not taking anything during delivery that I struggled to recognize he was now separated from me, and it would be OK to dull the pain of this after birth experience.  He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, and my fierce protection of him grew exponentially the moment I saw him, even though I had already been keeping him safe… sometimes at my own expense… for nine months.  Even though the cord was cut, it was as if I was still carrying him inside of me.  I didn’t realize it until last week, but eighteen years later I still feel this.  It’s hard to believe he is leaving home.  I haven’t made an announcement, because the acceptance process isn’t quite complete.  I had moments of panic over these days when I could not see his movement, but there was peace when I caught a glimpse of him across campus doing all the things an incoming college Freshman should be doing.  In some ways, it has been a difficult childhood, and in other ways it felt easy.  I still want to post a guard around this one.  I cannot bear the thought of him being hurt, and as I am typing these words, they are ripping my spirit… all the way through.  But I have kept him as safe as I could (spoiler alert: the world is not safe)… sometimes… still… at my own expense (I have a bit of a reputation for being a Mama bear, and I can be really ugly if you mess with my babies) for these eighteen years.  When I was pregnant with this first child of mine, I had a few months to think about what my life was going to look like when the baby arrived and changed everything.  Now I have a few months to think about what my life will look like when he leaves and changes everything again.  And I just hope he flies (even though I am now that aforementioned puddle of tears).

And then, there’s ‘the girl.’  In some ways, there is something cruel about having to launch two pieces of your heart at once, but I can’t slow her down.  I have never been able to.  She came to us completely unexpectedly.  No one plans for a little pink line with a four month old in their arms… but certainly not anyone who knows what it is to pee on those sticks month after month.   I have always called her “the best surprise of my life,” and she is.  Her entry into the world was frightening in its own right, because she was conceived while I was on medication that is not conducive to pregnancy but was necessary for dealing with the postpartum condition of my body.  Coumadin.  Category X.  The literature warned that this medication, when taken during pregnancy, may (although I think what I was told sounded much more like ‘should’… and ‘will’…) result in central nervous system defects, deformed limbs, and developmental retardation.  The girl was born singing.  It was really more of a low, guttural, mournful humming sound, and as medical staff and visiting friends and family expressed concern, I shut them out.  I was twenty-two years old.  Maybe I was exhausted because of the longer labor than the one before, or maybe I was preoccupied with the toddler in the pack-in-play, whom I would not allow to be taken home by his grandparents, or maybe I was trying to wrap my mind around why this baby really wasn’t as beautiful as the first and was going to need me in her corner.  Whatever the reason, my line over the next 24 hours became, “I think she just loves music.”  Cue the continued pitiful glances… and the failed hearing test… and walking out of the hospital the second they would let us go.  None of that really matters, because I was right, and she has been stickin’ it to the world ever since.  Most everyone had all but forgotten how her life began by the time she taught herself to read at age four… and was published in a magazine… and started winning essay contests and talent shows and quiz scholarships.  So please excuse me when I post indiscriminately about my girl with perfect pitch who is going to college for free to major in music composition!  As a baby, she was either crying or eating.  She had to be touching me to be happy.  This week I realized that I had to be touching her, too.  I spent most of the week following her around.  It is helpful that she has promised to always text me at the end of the day, so I know she is alive.  I received the first of these texts on Friday night.  It literally said, “I’m alive!”  And I laughed.  Cliché as it might be, I just hope she dances.

Even though I had worked in early childhood for years before having my own kids, there was something far more terrifying about keeping my own little person alive.  Even though I spent many years working with teenagers and their families as they transitioned to adulthood, there is something entirely different about experiencing this for myself.  But this is also exactly what parents are supposed to do.  It is our job to transform slimy, wrinkly, needy little things into loving, responsible people who will make their mark on the world.  Giving birth to adults is hard.  In some ways, I think it’s harder and more painful work than giving birth to babies (maybe I’m just far enough removed from this to have forgotten), because we’ve had them for a long time when we reach this stage, and we like them.  Their being is interconnected with ours, and even a gentle ripping away will leave some raw spaces.  And so… over the next few months, I prepare to push them out into the world, measured breathing all the way…