FOUR years THREE months + ONE year NINE months
Let July be July.
Let August be August.
And let yourself just be, even in the uncertainty.
You don’t have to fix everything.
And you can still find peace and grow in the wild of changing things.
During this morning’s walk, Everett kept frolicking in front of the stroller. His spazzy limbs waived wildly about, as he dangerously footed the wheel, over and over. I warned he could get hurt walking so close, telling him the legendary “Sam’s Club story.”
Remember when you, Allison and I were at the bulk superstore, stashing up on snacks like honey buns and nacho cheese quarts, and I pushed the shopping cart wheel right into the back of your ankle? You halved over in pain and became so obviously nauseous, an elder man behind the bakery counter offered you a makeshift seat on an upside-down bucket. You took it. And glared at me with warning, silently letting me know my recklessness wouldn’t go unpunished.
I repeated the story to Everett, in less than ten words, but instead of understanding why we don’t walk in front of wheels, all he heard was “Mommy’s Mommy.” And he looked up at me, his eyes squinting in the morning sun, and repeated your name, like it was a gigantic question.
And I said, “Yes, Mommy’s Mommy. Where is she, Everett?” Because whenever he sees a picture or a home movie, I point you out, explaining how you’re my mommy and where it is you are.
She’s in the sky, she’s in the wind, she’s in the ocean, and she’s always with you, Everett. And as lame as that answer may sound, it’s not only what I believe, but he can understand it. He usually continues the explanation on like a crescendo in a song––in the birdies, the treeeeees!
But today, while holding a whispy dandelion is his hand, he simply answered my question with two words: She’s gone. His little jaw dropped when pronouncing the “o,” making it sound blunt in tone but sharp with pain.
It felt like someone momentarily sucked the breath from my throat.
I stopped and braked Marion’s stroller and squatted to his level, turning his body towards mine. I told him to look at me, but kindly, and even propped my sunglasses atop my head so he could directly see my eyes. And I once again narrated the spiel about the sky and ocean and birds, trying to teach him that you could never be gone.
He’s been finding your feathers, including the Blue Jay ones. He’ll run inside with pride in his eyes, exclaiming, “I found you a feather Mommy!” Or he actively looks and successfully finds them on our walks, like you’re proving your presence, in the same way you did with me, when I began believing in what I couldn’t see.
Sometimes he looks up at the sky and thanks you when he finds one.
I’m either raising a weirdo, or a loving and grateful child who will grow up understanding what some adults never do.
Marion is on an entirely different level than her brother. Yes, she’s half his age, but she is more needy and noisy and incredibly particular. She’s a girl, that’s for sure. In this season of life with two children, she is by far the hardest and most frustrating.
If she gets mildly hurt, she will cry well past the mark of necessity. Her screams make my brain jumble in my skull. And the way she whines when I walk past her, begging for me to hold her for no particular reason, makes my hands shudder with frustration. She even prefers to be held certain ways at certain times, and if I dare place my arm where she doesn’t want it, she’ll swat me off like I’m a hungry bug looking for blood.
I know it may sound sweet, the way she always wants to be held by her mom. But I don’t know what it is about my presence that makes her cry for my attention, as if I don’t give her enough. I’m with her all day. And she still wants more. When will she grow out of it?
Maybe us daughters just need our mothers differently than sons.
Maybe we never “grow out of it.”
When we get into the car, if I don’t put a Taylor Swift album on or other approved music (like Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes) she (surprise) cries. She is demanding and knows what she wants and will not falter until she gets it. For these qualities, I cannot hold her solely accountable because I know where she gets them from. And if she’s outside for more than two minutes, I find her naked by the third. She’ll strip off her clothes and run around the yard, protesting if I dare to offer a pair of pants.
She was not meant to be the last baby––there’s something about the way she acts that assures me there will be more to follow. I don’t know how else to explain it, she’s just not the permanent youngest “type.”
While I know our family isn’t complete, I know for right now, it absolutely is. I want to get settled in our new house and really dive into doula work for a bit. If I had a newborn anytime soon, it would truly make that unmanageable. I had a false positive pregnancy test back in January, and felt my life flash through my body, as I shook and cried and called Aunt Sara, who repetitively assured me, It’s okay…it’s okay, until I screamed in response, “Nothing about this is okay!”
And while I quickly listed my reasons for devastation, the biggest con was the tattoo I’m currently having removed. The laser treatments are a bundled year-long process and unsafe to continue when pregnant. I know it sounds dramatic to worry about something so superficial, especially when facing the potential challenges of another baby, but the entire ten minute episode gave me a concrete calendar for the future: until the “Queen of Cups” tattoo (who ironically represents motherly intuition and fertility) is removed from my skin, my uterus will remain empty.
At least that’s the plan. I turned twenty-nine yesterday, so I have some reserved time to catch my breath and enjoy life as it is. Because a lot is changing.
Our current house sold after two days on the market. A young couple expecting their second child put a great offer in, and I’m relieved this home will remain full of love and a family.
As we wait for our September 1st closing date to approach (and cross our fingers that the new house is ready by then), I feel like I’m floating in the in-between; not yet there, but no longer here. This space doesn’t feel like my own anymore.
For all the preceding years, when I imagined myself inside the new house, I was different. I’d see me sitting on a wished-for back porch, with patterned Anthropologie pants, bangs, and a cup of coffee with lipstick stained on its rim. I’d be leaning against a railing, looking out from high above my hill, with an accomplished look on my face because I had made it––I was in that house, and my life had somehow finally become what I knew it could.
But I don’t feel caught up to this “future woman.” I’m not sure how else to describe her, she just always felt wiser and more accomplished. Her writing had become legitimate. And her lips had completely healed. And since she was so far-off into the future, I could give myself the space and grace to grow into her.
It feels like time is running out, though––like I have to be this “best version” of myself before the house is finished, so it can all be as perfect as possible.
I must let July be July and August be August, because I’m simply not yet that woman. I am not yet in that house. I am in that space of wild changing things.
It will all be as it will be.
And I can love who I am, as I am now.
I have my first “practice” client––I will be someone’s doula! Client sounds like such a serious word. For all my teenage years, I imagined being a lawyer, using that word in fancy courtrooms. But now it simply represents a mother. And I prefer it that way.
She’s early in her pregnancy, and I know her from high school. So I was incredibly happy when she reached out. My first time won’t be with a stranger! (I sound like I’m talking about losing my virginity.)
We met for a prenatal visit, and I was giddy asking her the mandatory questions, like her due date and place of birth and what she envisions for labor and delivery. I didn’t feel qualified enough to be writing her answers down––like I was faking a role. But I’ve done all my preliminary certification. And I’ve had two babies of my own. I need to give myself a little credit.
I recently completed a childbirth class, something I never took during my first pregnancy, even though it was mandatory. I don’t know if I was too young to care or too naive or too stubborn (probably a combination of all three), but I didn’t think a birth class was necessary to attend. I was under the informed impression that my body knew what to do, and I didn’t need to know any more than that.
When I began my first contractions with Everett, I didn’t know there were different stages of labor and delivery. I didn’t know that the first stage itself had four separate components in relation to cervical dilation:
Early labor builds (0-3 cm)
Early labor (3-5cm)
Active labor (6-7cm)
Once dilation is complete, the second stage begins, which is pushing, as the baby descends downward and out. Then the placenta delivery. Then recovery, which all together is four stages.
I also thought a woman’s labor length was an indication of her strength; I thought mine would only last a handful of hours, because I was strong and fearless and taught yoga. I’m not like those other women, I ignorantly thought.
Shortly after we arrived at the Midwife Center, I told Chris, “Just think….we’ll be home tonight with our baby and can eat the lasagna I made for dinner.” I was still in early labor, but totally convinced the pain I was feeling, meant my cervix was close to 8 cm or so.
But if you’re anywhere near transition, you’re not thinking of lasagna.
As Cynthia Gabriel writes in a book called “Natural Hospital Birth,” (of which I’m devouring), transition is more intense than all that has preceded it. The rational mind is wholly subsumed. It feels disconnected from the body. Some women describe transition as an out-of-body experience, in which they feel themselves floating above their bodies, watching what is happening. Very little information from the material world can break through your brain. You are likely to keep your eyes closed, and if you’ve found a comfortable position or are in water, you may doze off between contractions.
When I read that, I finally didn’t feel like a fraud or an exception to what happened during my transition. Because I indeed was in water, I felt like I’d left my body, and I couldn’t respond to Chris’ voice. My eyes were closed and I looked asleep. It was like I got lost inside myself. Or lost somewhere else. I was being pulled away from my body, while simultaneously diving into the inward depths you only reach when in labor.
Which is the reason I think a lot of women choose a natural birth. To go into the abyss. To come out on the other side, with their new baby. All this time, I’ve wondered why women do it. Why I did it.
But I’m beginning to remember. And that feels healing.
I’m bringing up my birth story (yet again), because if I would’ve been more educated, my first experience would’ve been different. And that’s no one’s fault but my own. But now I’ll know how important it will be for my clients to be informed. And I’ll get to be the one who reminds them during labor, that they’re not being sucked away from the earth. That they’re not going to tear in two. That they can do it. That they’re not the exception.
When I think of Everett’s birthday and go back to that birthing room, I see myself and my full belly, on the bed and in the tub and sitting backwards on the toilet. And then I see me, as I am now, supporting that twenty-four-year-old who thought she was tougher than mother nature itself, because she survived losing you.
I imagine rubbing her back and reassuring her and being her mother. Because that is what I needed. And I don’t even specifically mean you. I just needed to be mothered.
I thought I’d faced and remembered and dealt with every facet of Everett’s birth in order to emotionally recover. But to be beginning a line of work that allows me to be that metaphorpic mother, feels wholesome and fulfilling and once again, healing.
My sister-in-law became a mother in the midst of May, and I already feel closer to her than ever before. Not only has she given me a beautiful nephew, but she’s now a mother without a mother. Maybe not in the same exact way as me, because her mom is still living. But at 63, Judy is in a full-time care facility, and cannot remember who either of her children are.
To avoid intruding her privacy, I’m obviously not going to share her birth story. I’ll just say that her birth and the expectations she had, felt very familiar to mine the first time around. It was excruciatingly long, and the idea that she would peacefully squat a baby out, was quickly classified as a fictional scenario only made for YouTube. She was overwhelmed, dropped in a foreign land, with nothing favoring the ideals she held for nine months. And she needed someone to anchor her. She needed her mother. Just as every other woman does after bringing life into this world.
I can remember on the drive home with brand new Everett, I called Grandma, asking if she and Aunt Sara could come meet at my house. I got to see Dad and Nana at the hospital, but there was something instinctual and absolutely necessary about the way I wanted to see them. So they came and sat on my bed, and just seeing their faces, I felt like I had finally returned to my body, after a three day long psychedelic trip. And I’m not writing that to sound funny. The entire birth and hospital transfer and Everett’s overnight stay in the NICU, felt nothing short of a terrifying fantasy.
So when I saw Lauren’s name calling my phone, I quickly answered. I could tell in her voice that she’d just been through something incredibly intense. She asked if I could be at their house, when they came home from the hospital. I’d be an extra set of hands to help carry the baby in, etc. And I practically sung the replied word yes.
Beforehand, I went to Target, preparing like I’d been called for the most honory duty of my life. I bought nipple shields, a velcro swaddle blanket, a bassinet and binkies—the basics that aren’t given at a baby shower.
I was waiting in their driveway when they pulled up. And when the backseat door to her Subaru opened, I saw her exhausted face and a body that matched the expression. I immediately wrapped my arms around her, and could literally feel everything she had been through, without needing details. In all the years we’ve known each other, we’d never hugged like that. We were now mothers and sisters and two women simply coming together.
I put my hand on the back of her head and my chin was nestled on her shoulder, where I had a first view of my new nephew, snuggled in his car seat and sleeping soundly. I’m an aunt! My heart cooed.
As I continued to hold her, I just remember saying, I know. And then there’d be a pause to let her feel it, and then I’d say again, I know. The words were simple, but she understood what I was saying. I knew she missed her mom. I knew she just went through something scary and unexpected. I knew she just needed brought back down on solid ground, by a familiar face who could empathize.
And I am so incredibly thankful I got to be that person. Once we got inside, I sat on her bed and talked, like we were two girlfriends at a sleepover. Like Grandma and Aunt Sara did with me. And I got to hold the newest member of the Pearlman family, in absolute awe that either of my children started out so small. You forget just how little a newborn is.
The whole experience felt like confirmation that I’m headed in the right direction. That the “doula woman” I envision, is real and ready and waiting for me.
Maybe she’s the one on the porch, with the lipstick stain and patterned pants.