Being a mother to my son brings enormous joy, possibly the pinnacle of my life. Motherhood satisfied me as no other role could do. I didn’t make it as a wife; that needs no elaboration. I stumbled through daughterhood with blind unawareness of my parents as real people. I lost both parents before I had found myself enough to be able to appreciate their complexity.. I attained marginal satisfaction from college, graduate school, and law school; more from practicing family law. But motherhood pulled something from the depths of my soul. Being a mother awakened an indestructible, enduring passion which entwined itself around my psyche. Its fibers keep me whole against the onslaught of each shattering blow from an otherwise diminishing existence.
I have one biological child, Patrick. I nearly had three more. The joys of being an almost-mother started at age 22 when I got pregnant by a man whom I dated off and on through high school, college, and graduate school We both knew that we did not belong together. Our relationship suffered from an unrealistic overtone. I never knew how he felt about God, taxes, or eating vegetarian. I admired how he treated his parents but we kept ourselves apart from each other’s social set, never speaking of the future, sensing that we had none.
I lost that baby in my mother’s bathroom in January of 1977. I bled out on the black-and-white tile floor with the door locked, sobbing as quietly as I could. She cajoled her way into the small space and folded me into her arms. We said nothing. She helped me clean myself and guided me to my old bedroom. I slept for two days. When I awakened, the urge to give birth lay heavy on my heart. But I did not cry. I did not mourn. I simply let the knowledge that I had been an almost-mother cleanse me. I understood that my time had not yet come but that it would.
The next almost-child slipped from my body during my first marriage. We wanted to be parents so intensely that babies haunted each of our separate dreams. A kidney infection ruined my chances that time, something sick and vile that left me shaking on a gurney at the local health clinic. The doctor kept saying he was sorry, as though he should never have given me the pregnancy test results. Every time he apologized, I automatically said, “It’s not your fault, don’t worry”, while the catheter drained dark urine from my body and antibiotics flowed through a needle into my arm. I can’t remember what he did after that; I might have blacked out.
A third child didn’t make it to my arms as part of the pregnancy which gave my son to me. I miscarried his twin in March at about four months. When I spread my legs for the post-miscarriage procedures, my ob-gyn unexpectedly exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, there’s another baby.” Astonishment surged through me. I had been redeemed by a tiny, tenacious creature clinging to life. I felt a smug satisfaction. I had known that I would be a mother from the first moment. I had never doubted. The miscarriage brought brief, intense confusion which dispelled with the doctor’s startled revelation.
Possibly the thrills of being an almost-mother attached themselves to the one child whom I bore. In some ways, though, just being pregnant stirred the capacity for joy within me. That same sensation bloomed when I got the privilege of sharing other people’s children: Caitlin, Jennie, and Chris Taggart; my stepchildren Tshandra, Kim, Cara, and Mac; and the smattering of kids who have called me “Auntie” or treated me like a second mother over the years — Maher, Abbey, Colin, and Sam, to name a few. Though some of them have wandered away, I do not regret any of the love which I invested in them nor would I pull their gossamer threads from the fabric of my life.
I staggered through many of my days as a mother. I did the first eight years alone in the house with Patrick though just outside our door, a village welcomed us. So much would have been different if I had given birth at 22, at 33, or to both children at 36. I hold onto all of it though — the good with the bad; the almost with the actual. Every second of my life as a mother contributes to the person I have become.
Through the open door, I hear baby birds raising their voices on the crisp air of a Delta spring morning. The palest blue soars above me as I gaze through the big window with its long lace curtain. Sleep eluded me for hours last night, but whatever bothered me has now receded. I feel whole and clean. Hope endures, despite the downward turns that my life has taken along the road from there to here. I’ve made it this far, against immeasurable odds. Anything can happen now. I close my eyes and listen to the call of life.
It’s the sixth day of the fifty-third month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.