Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Baby, Myself: An Epic

You know, a couple of years ago, I was very strung out. I've always been an intense person, very energetic - almost compulsively so - and I've hovered at the margins of anxiety since early childhood. Some of you will know how exhausting it is to live so fast, always evading the voices that loom large.

Nine years ago, I had M - a person who's been running the show ever since. She arrived on the scene in a fashion that would render the most moderate of women total mush. First, there was the damage to my own body (enitrely drug free home birth, complications, paramedics in my living room as midwife literally scooped her hands into me and pulled my baby out). Thank God the baby scored high on the Apgar scale moments later...

My psyche, fractured by 9 months of constant nausea and vomiting - and a surge in anxiety and depression I couldn't even recognize (so far gone was I) - was not quick to rebound from a trip to Sick Kids two days later, motivated by midwives (health providers with whom I would gladly trust my life again) who observed that M's resting heart rate was exceedingly low for a newborn. That whirlwind trip to the hospital was the beginning of a days-long ordeal during which my baby was poked and drugged and prodded up the yin yang, during which doctors with years of experience advised she might die (though they couldn't say how exactly). I should mention that my aversion to hospitals and germs is such that I chose to have a home birth so my newborn would not be subjected to the very kinds of things she ended up experiencing so fulsomely two days thereafter.

There's some irony for you.

Bear with me as I mow through this "here's how I went kind of nutty" thread by saying that I am tremendously grateful to everyone who participated in the "adventure". The care - from midwives (who were astonishingly capable), doctors and nurses, and in particular from my dear friend Hilary, now a pediatrician with years of emergency room cred - was first rate.

Truly, I can never express my gratitude adequately to Hil - who jumped on a plane from BC - where she had only just arrived 24 hours before - to spend days in the hospital with us, advocating, working with the doctors as they did 3 lumbar punctures on M, keeping me sort of sane though I was practically catatonic. I remember asking her how she thought it was all going to go. (It's still hard to write this, to remember it, a question no parent should consider...) And she told me, which gave me more hope than few other things ever have, that she'd seen many sick babies in her time - held some before they died - and that in her official opinion, M was not a sick baby.

Turns out that M was not a sick baby - thanks to all the powers in the Universe - just a bit different, but it was almost impossible for me to accept that - hormonally unbalanced, physically traumatized by a birth that was so not textbook, hallucinogenically exhausted - worse still, innocence snatched. Never again would I see the world gently, through the prism of immortality. I'd observed the crush and chaos of bringing about life and being powerless for all of that. I was terrified.

Years went by. Early parenting with no family support structures and very busy, unsatisfying, precarious jobs, did not improve my marriage. I loathed parenting. I did not want to be alone with M. She was challenging. She didn't sleep. I couldn't really engage with her. I was compulsive about keeping her away from germs. I had to keep her safe. It was an endless, fruitless effort.

You'd think, having dodged a bullet, I'd have been on cloud nine to "mother", but the more I did it, the less I suited it. It made easy things hard and everything else that much harder. I was trapped by the burden of excessive responsibility. I was trapped by the omnipresent feeling that there was no good alternative. I was trapped by the gut instinct that I would have been better off to have foregone this reasonably common, if profound, life experience. I was angry for having brought it on myself. I was angered by my powerlessness - but I was locked in my brain with it.

Lots of things happened in those years, and I know many of them were very good, but I don't remember much. Eventually, after burning out my brain chemistry on hideous anxiety, sleeplessness, horrible amounts of junk food, caffeine, booze and other mood alterers, I woke up one day and recognized that I couldn't keep living my life that way because it sucked. I know, this whole post is rather drama-plus, but don't wander off now...

I blogged about this part of the story in lots of detail last summer, during Health and Lifestyle theme week. This is where I got really sick, and in my time of reflection (two weeks bedridden) decided that I had to do something transformational. I know, big ideas... But there's one thing you really should know about me: when I finally decide to do something, get the fuck out of my way.

Two and a half years ago, I made some pivotal changes in my attitude which led to huge improvements in the health of my mind and body. Of course, my baby is now 9 and increasingly independent in all ways. I love that. I love the balance in sleeping well (most of the time) and eating well and exercising (which I always did, admittedly) and being vaguely moderate despite my love of all things immoderate. The impact of these changes is a better relationship with practically everyone I know - specifically my daughter (whom I now allow to touch public door handles - joking, sort of).

I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to say I love full-on parenting because, really, I don't. I do love my child (irrationally) and I want the best for her. I look forward to seeing where this is all going (though I recognize we are energetically at odds, some of the time, that it may be an ongoing challenge for us). I still panic when she gets a cold, but I'm trying to have perspective.

Recently, it hit me - like a punch - that I have been irrevocably changed for the better, by motherhood. I spent a long time feeling like a movie stand-in, oddly disassociated from the role. (You know how so many mommy bloggers tell the tales of their immediate, visceral affinity for parenting? Well needless to say, I have only ever read those blogs to more effectively imagine what that's like.)

Saying this, I know now that I am not the person I would have been if I had not had a kid, that I am someone who has been markedly challenged - and truly improved - by the job. Not bad gain for the pain. If nothing else, I could run a small country on the efficiencies I've learned :-) Hmmm...


  1. Intense story! I hope that if I ever will go thru something of the same sort, I will be able to keep my analytical and self-critical strength to turn myself to the better even though at first glance things seem to not allow me.

  2. Parenthood changes you as a person, and I think usually for the better.

    I couldn't be a full time mummy, I need to work and have time away from my beautiful children. Love them as I do, they're not intellectually stimulating. PND showed me that folly.

    I've never had a really sick child, though only at Easter I had a trip in an ambulance with my son after he had an accident falling off his bike - that was stressful enough.

    I do love to see the world again through a child's eye, rather than my own very jaded ones - that is a joy.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this, it's a tough but touching tale. I think there's some odd pressure for everyone to assert that everything associated with parenthood is shiny and happy and perfect...but to be honest, I'm in the sidelines about to become an AUNT for the very first time...and even I'm petrified. Just the thought of babysitting sets of involuntary paralysis. I hope I can get my act together in time to be a good aunt and a good sister.

  4. Intense is right. Another story that makes me think I'm best suited for stepchildren! I don't think I would have pulled it together as well as you.

  5. Intense story, my dear, thanks for sharing with us.
    I have no experience in being a mother, but I know it's not an easy thing and you've done it against all odds wonderfully.


  6. I'm trying to come out with a word other then intense, but that seems most fitting. It's interesting to read about adjusting to motherhood that's not the typical sunshine & rainbows view. I also agree with the person who said that motherhood usually changes a person for the better.

    Even though I'm not a mother I can definitely feel for how you felt with M since my parents no doubt went through similar emotions with me. That said, I have nothing but the most positive things to say about Sick Kids. It's truly a world class facility.

  7. Aww, you got rid of Natasha. Or whatever her name was. haha.

  8. whoa. what a post! it was so good to read this. i am not a parent but am fascinated by what they go through. i am not sure i could do it, even tho most seem to say that is the most rewarding and difficult thing to go through in life.

  9. Oh i'd love to read this always..;D
    I know that being a parent is the hardest thing that a woman will be..And i should know that coz of my mother.She'd done everything for us until now...;D
    Lovely post..;D


  10. In my opinion childbirth is the closest we come to touching the thin veil between life and death without actually being born or dying. And motherhood is really like being fired in a kiln, making us stronger and infinitely more robust or shattering us into a million tiny pieces. You write so truthfully about your experience, it's lovely to read. Thank you.

  11. I have been waiting for this post. I knew from our off blog emails that it was coming. I am endlessly in awe of your honesty. Truly, everywhere I go and every time I read an interview I hear people saying that parenting is the best thing thy have ever done and it has only changed their life in the most magical of ways. All that said, your honesty means so much to me. I know that nothing is perfect and everything has its price but sometimes I am sucked in by the fairytale.

    It is, as you so beautifully explain, possible to not love "full-on parenting" but to love your child "irrationally". Beautiful and touching post.

  12. This is such a lovely and life-affirming story! You write beautifully about a difficult experience!


  13. I get this entirely. Our pre-marriage agreement was *not* to have children (at my request). Obviously we did, but some eight years later. All births would have been drug free, had the young man not need some emergency medical assistance, and they were all grueling!

  14. What a lovely story! A difficult experience indeed but it opens people's eyes!

    La C.

  15. It's so nice to read a post that talks about the OTHER side of it all ...the side that I lean toward much of the time but that gets wiped away when I'm hormonal and think I need a child to complete me. ...and wow. your birth story. I've often thought I'd go the same way; midwife, home birth, etc. but I couldn't imagine if something went wrong. oh the horrors. I think I'll pass :) ..for now anyway...lol. great post!

  16. My younger son was premature and had to wear a heart monitor for six months. No one would babysit for me, because they feared his heart would stop.

    Motherhood cannot be comprehended by anyone who hasn't been through it. xo

  17. Kitten: It all seems analytical 9 years later :-) I only wish I could have found some footing sooner!

    Imogen: I can only imagine the stress of that ambulence ride. PND is such a horror. The power of hormones (and neurotransmitters) is not to be trifled with!

    Ms. U: I'm sure you will be an excellent help to your sister and a great aunt. Make sure you post some photos on your blog!

    Ms. Wendy: You are kind but, if you ask anyone who knows me, I don't think they'd be inclined to say I pulled it off with much aplomb. Step kids - grown ones - sound like terrific fun!

    Thank you Seeker xo

    Y: It's unusual for a kid to see things from her parents' perspective! Especially one who isn't yet a mum. Kudos to you :-) And Sick Kids is an awesome hospital. PS - Could Natasha have been more inappropriate :-)

    droll: There are many, many rewarding and meaningful things to do in life that have nothing to do with raising kids. I didn't mean to imply in this post (if I did) that I'm a better person because -as a mother - I have cornered the market on "worthiness". I think doing something super hard has made me better.

    Solo: If your mother knows how much you appreciate her (and I'm sure she does) that makes a HUGE difference.

    Anon: Thanks for your comment - that'a a great way to look at it - standing in the veil between life and death. Spookily apt.

    Bel: If my honesty makes any difference to anyone who wants kids desperately, but can't seem to have them, then I think I will have done something terrific! Truly, it is so far from fairytale and that myth leads many unsuited candidates into the fray. Furthermore, I truly hope - and believe - that it's "easier" to manage the hard reality of child-free-ness (when one desires a child tremendously) if one's perspective is tempered by all the facets of parenting. Biology can be deceptive by mandate...

    Thank you CC xo

    Miss C: You are a super hero. I would never undergo another drug free birth! :-)

    Thanks so much, La C!

    Maegan: It was your post last week that brought this one on! It's so confusing - wanting children / not having them. Just needed to say (and hopefully give comfort - or at least well-roundedness to the story) that wanting children / having them brings its own insistent challenges. My friend, who wanted children more than anything and now has 2 (she loves them tremendously), likes to say "Freedom is wasted on the free." When I saw her struggle, I knew it must be happening to everyone.

  18. ~h: That sounds kind of adorable :-) Surround yourself with the reality. It's good to see all sides of the story and then decide which path is best for you.

    Sister: Amen to that. So sorry about your little baby having had to wear a monitor. That must have been so hard on his delicate baby skin. And so brutal for you to see everytime you picked him up. Such a visceral reminder of things that can go wrong, would be hideous. I'm very happy for you that you are on the flip side of that experience. Kxo

  19. So true - I love my kids, but often wish I was childfree - I miss that freedom! But I also wouldn't want to be without them, it is the complex of motherhood.

    I'd never do a home birth - i would have died if I hadn't been in hospital giving birth to my son (cervical tear and lots of blood loss), he would have died too.

    I think it's important that women don't always go on about how wonderful and perfect motherhood is - so much of it is drudgery and babies are boring conversationalists!

  20. wow K. Welcome to the things we are not supposed to say club. As you know my children have defied all my attempts at planning and organising and I think I could have easily tipped into madness, had there been anyone to catch me when I fell.

    I think that's when religion makes sense, who else could find someone as controlling and obsessive as me, and throw them two children with as many variables as there are stars in the sky.

    But I think what the "higher power" did throw me before I had my two little challenges, a missed baby; which gave me the ability to be grateful for my kids robust health despite their neurology.

    I think I have know for a while how similar we are as people and mothers. And yet there was no stereotypical "misfit" mother in my story books. Someone who needs to be the best at everything, so feels let down by biology after a difficult birth (x2) who doesn't fit in to the "mum scene" but no longer has the passion for the work scene; which seems a bit meaningless.

    "Anyone can make a Cabernet Shiraz, I recently made a person- so shut up and give me an order so I can go home to my babies"


  21. Great post!
    I relate to so much of what you say about mothering. In my experience it's gruelingly hard work, albeit at times rewarding in ways I couldn't have imagined. Most of the time I consider myself totally unsuited to motherhood, but desperately trying to make a go of it and not screw my kids up too badly. And then there are the good days...

  22. Imogen: I hear you on all accounts. But it's so impossible to explain the ominpresent complexity of parenthood to those that aren't in the midst of it, don't you think? Even I, with a 9 year old, struggle to remember the exhaustion and tedium of the first couple of years. And I've been there!

    T: I've fallen off the face of the earth. Can you tell? We have to get together ASAP. Still experiencing renos at my house. You up for an excursion to my neighbourhood on Sat. am?

    Hammie: Thanks for your great comment. I love how this post has brought out a new side in moms - one that's as relevant to the experience as the loving / happy stereotype (which is also true, of course). You mention control and the loss of it. I should have included that in my ramblings. Of course, it's the perceived (and actual) loss of control over everything that is so scary - and maddening. You are an awesome mother under very difficult circumstances and I respect you for that tremendously. Kxo

    Janet: Glad to know I'm not the only one who feels like an alien in the mom scene. And I imagine that therapy can reframe a number of childhood life experiences :-)

  23. Very intense and still raw I think, thank you for sharing it with us all.

    I have had such a lovely blissful free ride in a lot of ways with my parenting, that I do actively fear having another because of all the things you talk about here. What if I dodged a bullet the first time, but won't the second? I thing going in with eyes open is the only thing I can do - and that is one reason why it is important for people to share their stories the way you have done here.

  24. Skye: There really is no way to know how one is going to react - or what one may face as a parent. The only thing we can do is make informed choices, with optimism. The likelihood is that all will go well. And if we don't act out of fear, it's not much better. But I hear you. I mean, I'm not jumping on the kid no. 2 bandwagon...

    Editor: Your comment is a delight. Made me laugh. I sense we have had some of the same parenting moments...