Special Deliveries

Today’s post is part of the Moods of Motherhood blogging carnival celebrating the launch of the second edition of Moods of Motherhood: the inner journey of mothering by Amazon bestselling author, Lucy H. Pearce (published by Womancraft Publishing).

Today over 40 mothers around the world reflect on the internal journey of motherhood: raw, honest and uncut. To see a list of the other contributors and to win your own copy visit Dreaming Aloud.net

I do not remember a time when I didn’t want to be a mother. It was a longing I was born with; not a desire to replicate my genes or a want to have a ‘mini-me’ that I could dress up in things I’d have liked to have been dressed up myself. No. I wanted to be a mother because I wanted to mother.  I wanted to raise children who would be loved and who would know it; children who would be happy and confident and encouraged to take their rightful places in the world.

I had always assumed I’d have at least seven or eight kids. (When I was between the ages of 4 and 12, my ideal number of offspring was fourteen – clearly I was raised Catholic!).  When I married, at 20, all I wanted was to have a baby to celebrate our first anniversary with.

Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. It would be eight years, two husbands, three surgical operations, bucket-loads of pills, months of injections, invasive procedures and every ounce of my considerable determination before I held my baby.

The agony of being denied motherhood devoured me from the inside out. I ached, sometimes physically, for a child to call my own. My arms longed to hold a baby that they wouldn’t have to return to its rightful owner. My heart overflowed with un-shared love. Love for a child I was desperate to have, desperate to love, desperate to parent, desperate to raise. I read books on pregnancy, homebirth (having decided, by the time I was 18, that the only sensible, logical and safe option was to birth at home), breastfeeding, parenting and children. I dreamed of what it would be like when one of those infernal pregnancy tests eventually gave me the result I was looking for.

Sometimes, I would dream about holding my own baby and the dream would be so vivid that I would awake from it and still have the scent of a small baby lingering in my nostrils; would still be able to feel the silk of a tiny child’s hair on my cheek; the near-nothingness of a baby’s soft skin; the sweetness of a baby’s breath on my neck. I questioned the love of a God who could create such longing in my soul, and who could equip me with a certainty that I would be a great mother – and then deny me the fulfilment of my longing. It was analogous to creating a singer with a voice to rival that of Maria Callas, then ripping out their tongue and wiring their jaw shut. Every time I got my period – which was far from a regular occurrence – it was as though my womb was directly connected to my heart and, distressed by its own emptiness and failure, was shedding tears in synchrony with my eyes.

Poisoned by my desire I found it increasingly difficult to rejoice with people when they announced that they were expecting a baby. I got more and more resentful of others when they shared that they were pregnant – I  felt that I had been longer in the ‘conception queue’ than they had. I deserved that baby, not them. It was almost as though there was a finite number of souls who chose to incarnate in a particular year and somebody else, by getting pregnant, had snatched one of the souls that otherwise would have come to me. I could still smile to someone’s face and congratulate them. As soon as I was alone, however, I would cry tears of pain, sadness, jealousy, anger and fear. Fear that I would never fulfill my destiny to become a mother; that all the babies would be allocated to other people and I would be left without one. It felt as though my pain was bigger than I was. It was such a great thing that I was unable to contain it.

But it finally went away: On March 13th, 2002 in Pune, India, my beloved daughter, Ishthara was born. No words can express my joy when I held her in my arms for the first time. I couldn’t quite believe it. I was a mother! Finally, nestled close to me was all I had ever wanted. For some reason, love didn’t flood through me the first time I held her. I was numb. It was almost as though I was in an altered state of consciousness. I couldn’t quite grasp that she was really mine, that I was really allowed to keep her. Years later, when I was studying psychology, I read Viktor Frankl, and the experience made sense.

In his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ Frankl details how he and others were liberated from a Nazi death camp. Instead of being joy-filled and jubilant, they found themselves mis-trusting their experience; not quite believing it. Frankl explains that they had spent so long dreaming of this very moment – and had their hopes and dreams dashed so many times – that now, they were not sure they could believe it. It took the men a few days to grasp the reality that their dream had come true and was not about to be snatched from them.

On the third day, Ishthara reached her bony arm up and touched my cheek with her hand. She looked in to my eyes and I swear I saw all the knowledge of the Universe in hers. Love surged through me stronger and more overwhelming than anything I had ever known. I knew true happiness for the first time in my life. Finally, I knew what love was. I discovered a bottomless well of love that I had never thought could possibly exist – much less that it could exist inside me.

Everything about Ishthara sent joy and love surging through me – and nothing had prepared me for that. I knew I was prepared to be a parent but I wasn’t prepared for the love that being a mother brought me. I found that I instinctively knew what she needed and wanted. I found extreme joy in being with her, in responding to her needs – in pre-empting them, even. Holding her little body close to mine, keeping her body alive with mine, watching her flourish and grow and thrive filled me bliss and peace. For the first time in my life, I felt as though all was well in my world.

When I held Ishthara in my arms, and breathed in the scent of her, I felt as though I had come home to myself. It felt that I had spent my entire life preparing to hold a child I didn’t have to give back. This little splinter of God had made my biggest, greatest, grandest dream come true. She had turned me into a mother. 

Not long after Ishthara’s first birthday, I left my second husband. Then the unbelievable happened – I discovered I was pregnant. Without even trying!! How did that happen? I was shocked and delighted. I was also worried about how I would love the baby I was carrying. I had no doubt I would love her, but I loved Ishthara so much – she was the child I had always dreamt of, the child I had always longed for, and she and I had such a tremendously tight bond – that I was sure I wouldn’t possibly be able to love my second child as much. I felt sorry for her, coming into a family where she wouldn’t be loved as much as her elder sister. I couldn’t conceive that there could be enough love in the entire world – never mind in me – to love my second child the way I loved my first. 

Kashmira was born on the 18th of May, 2004. When I held her in my arms and told her I loved her for the first time – I was lying. I knew I should love her, but I felt the same way I had when I’d first held Ishthara – kind of shocked and numb and waiting; waiting for waves of love to wash over me. I fretted that this meant my fears were correct, that I would never love this child as much as I loved my other one. Three days later, however, I woke up and looked at Kashmira and a feeling of adoration for my child flooded through me. I was overcome with relief and profoundly grateful that this little person had chosen to turn me in to her mum. 

Pic: Ishthara and Kashmira, aged 38 and 18 months, respectively

It’s a feeling I have felt, for both my special deliveries, and the privilege of being their mother, every day since.

The Baby Trousseau

Looking for something else entirely this morning, I came across this. It’s a short story I wrote a few years ago. I thought I might as well post it here. 

Dr. Joe has been my doctor for four years. I really like him. Bill, my husband, likes him, too. Which is a good thing. It’s important to like a man when you’re watching him touch your wife in her most intimate of places. Dr. Joe has been in charge of helping me get pregnant since I turned 32. Until then, no doctor took me seriously. They pooh-poohed my desire to start a family, airily telling me that I was young and had plenty of time. Like the fact that I wanted to have my family young was irrelevant. Like the fact that I wanted more than one child – I was aiming for three or four – was of no importance.

Dr. Joe took me seriously, though. He understood that I was one of life’s ‘Mammies’ and that I ached to hold a baby in my arms. One I didn’t have to give back. He promised to help me – and I suppose he did his best. He started with the tests. Nobody had bothered testing me before this. They had just given me clomid and told me to go home and have lots of sex. Dr. Joe, on the other hand. rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in. Not literally, you understand. He just did the things his colleagues had neglected to do over the previous twelve years.

It started off with blood tests, ultrasound tests and sperm tests for Bill. Then came the other tests – ones I’d never dreamed existed; mucous tests, ovulation tests, post-coital mucous tests, followed by key-hole surgery to have a look inside. Key-hole surgery. It sounds innocuous. Like you’re hardly having surgery at all. Pity they don’t tell you how much it hurts – how they pump you up with gas and how painful that is when you come round. How you can’t really bounce back into your life the following day. It’s still surgery and it still hurts and it still takes a few weeks to get over.

Then there was the IUI. Four rounds of that. Daily injections, scans every three days, a final ‘super’ injection just before the egg popped, and then your husband’s sperm injected into your womb at the optimum baby-making time.

Then a few months off. Well, not really. We just monitored ovulation ourselves and had very carefully-timed lovemaking. Or ‘intercourse’ as the doctor clinically called it. After that, we scraped the money together and went the whole hog – the IVF route. The same as IUI except that my ova were very painfully extracted and mixed with Bill’s sperm in a Petri dish before being reintroduced into my body as embryos. That, we tried three times before Dr. Joe told us our chances would not be improved by further rounds.

Still, it was worth it. Or it would have been if I’d become a mother at the end of it. But I hadn’t. Month after month, year after year, all the years we have been married, we have been trying to have a baby. Bill has been fully on board. In that much I am lucky and I know it. He wants to be a daddy as much as I want to be a mammy. He understood as much as a man could. He didn’t hate me because my eyes cried in tandem with my womb every month. He got excited all the times I was late. He went to the late night pharmacy to get pregnancy tests. He held me and comforted me and told me he still loved me and reassured me that I was still a real woman even though I didn’t feel like one. He agreed with me when I said it was time to stop trying. And he agreed with me a few months later when my internal Court of Appeal overturned that decision. He even understood when I added another item to my ‘baby trousseau’.

The baby trousseau was an idea I hit on during our second year of marriage. It was based on the old idea of a wedding trousseau. The way a woman would add a little something to her collection of clothes and accessories and practical bits and pieces for years before she was even engaged – never mind married. So, every time I got my period, or a negative pregnancy test, or a friend or relative announced her pregnancy, or even whenever I saw something really pretty on sale, I added it to my baby trousseau. I ended up with a wardrobe full of stuff. Just a single wardrobe, though, I wasn’t unrestrained.

We were married when I was young and people assumed we were putting off having a baby. Then we celebrated our ten-year anniversary and people started to make comments about how it was time we started thinking about having a family – we weren’t getting younger, they would joke. That wasn’t a joke. The joke was the fact that we’d been trying so hard for so long, we were exhausted.

Then, last week, I hit on a solution. No, not adoption. We’d looked at that already and, despite what so many people think, it’s not like going into a pet shop and choosing the most adorable puppy. It’s hard and it’s expensive and, given that Bill is ten years older than I, we’re deemed ‘too old’ to adopt a young baby. No, my idea is better than that. Far, far better.

You see, I have realised that I have been living all this time on hope. ‘Where there’s life, there’s hope’, people say, in effort to be upbeat and rallying. That’s bollocks. Hope is bollocks. Asking someone to live on hope is exactly the same as asking a starving person to be satisfied with the smell of bread, rather than handing them a loaf. It’s simply not good enough. Far, far better is the honest route. It’s kinder in the long run. Tell the woman with cancer that she won’t live to see Christmas. Tell the parents of the boy on life-support that he’s never coming out of a coma and they might as well switch the machine off now. Tell the wife of the man who has been in an accident that he’ll never walk again. Tell me that I will never hold my own child. And make me believe it.

I don’t want to live with hope anymore. I want the threat of hope removed. I want Dr. Joe to perform a full and complete hysterectomy and ovarectomy. It is a reasonable request and a very rational solution. I wonder why I didn’t think of it before. If my leg were withered and useless, many doctors would consider amputating it if I asked them to. If I had a spare digit on my hand, it would be practical to remove it. If something is useless and is, by virtue of that fact, causing stress, you remove it, don’t you?

The baby trousseau is all packed up for donation to my favourite charity shop. Some children somewhere will have lovely things, lovingly picked by a loving mammy.

I am thirty-six years old and I want my life back. I want to stop living for, and loving, a child who will never exist. I want to count my blessings and feel truly blessed – not have my inner voice go ‘Yes, but…..’ I want to stop feeling as though I have been stabbed in the heart every time someone I know – or even someone I don’t – announces their pregnancy. I want to stop feeling as though I have been stabbed in the heart and in the back when someone announces their pregnancy and then blithely adds, ‘I don’t know how it happened – we weren’t even trying!’

I want to stop feeling as though there is a ‘conception queue’ and everyone else keeps jumping it. I want to stop my judgmental eyeing of junkies with kids they’re too drugged up to even notice they have: My equally judgmental eyeing of middle class mummies who shove rubber nipples attached to plastic bottles filled with the poison that is formula at their babies, while they have coffee with others of their ilk. I want to stop caring that my thoughts on raising children are dismissed by those of my friends who are parents because I am not. I want to stop holding my breath.

Dr. Joe welcomes me like an old friend. He is warm, genial and sympathetic. I expect that he is expecting me to talk about my longing – to ask him if there anything I can do that I have not already done. There are two boxes of tissues in different areas of his office. Women cry a lot here. I have cried a lot here. Dr. Joe probably expects me to cry today. Or is at least aware of it as a possibility. But I won’t cry today. Today, I am made of steel. Today, I have come, not to beg for solutions, but to provide one. Today, I am not beseeching. Today, I am powerful.

In calm, measured tones, I issue my request to Dr. Joe. He is shocked. The colour leaves his face. He tries to tell me I can’t mean it. For the first time, I hear how Dr. Joe treats me like a child and it irks me. I tell him that I have given my situation much careful thought and have arrived at my decision. I tell him that because he has been my doctor for so long, and has been through so much with me, I would like him to perform the procedure. Implicit in my request is my knowledge that, should he refuse, there are other doctors in other cities on this island who will whip my womb out for me if I ask them. Some even do it to women who don’t ask.

The doctor asks me if I have spoken to my husband about my intended course of action. Of course I have, I snap back at him. As if I’d consider having part of myself amputated without talking to Bill. My conscience pricks at me slightly. I haven’t actually mentioned it to Bill. My plan was to meet the doctor and then talk to Bill when I had a definite date for the surgery.

Slowly, as though speaking to a retarded child, Joe tells me that my womb is not diseased. It would be unethical to remove a perfectly functioning part of the body. Bitterly I counter that it’s not perfectly functioning. It if were, I’d have four kids by now.

‘Just whip ’em out, Doctor,’ I say to him.

‘I understand your frustration,’ he tells me.

‘No you don’t!’

The doctor shakes his head almost sorrowfully and proceeds to tell me about a woman who attended him years ago. She had been trying to have a baby for ten years. Then she gave up. The next Joe saw of her, she was in for her annual well-woman check-up. She thought she had started the menopause, but Joe was able to give her the happy news that, actually she was pregnant!

I roll my eyes, not politely – not inwardly – but physically. Right in his face. I am not interested in this patient of his – I don’t even care if she’s real or fabricated. I am not interested in anyone else’s experience. The only experience that interests me is my own. And I want to be back in control of my own experiences. I am still young enough to carve out a career for myself. I am still young enough to enjoy many more years with Bill. I am still young enough to enjoy my life without the weight of longing hanging like an albatross off my heart.

Joe is deaf to my reasoning. He refuses to understand and accept my logic. I am annoyed with him. Suddenly, a thought crosses my mind. Joe is reluctant to help me because to do so would not just remove my hope, it would remove his. While I am still in possession of my all reproductive organs, he can tell himself that he has not failed. His ego need not take a hit. Once I realise this, I realise that further discourse with this particular doctor will yield me no satisfaction.

Driving home from Joe’s office, I experience a twinge of regret that our relationship has come to an end. But it is momentary. I have other things to think about. This is Ireland. Paternalistic, misogynistic old Ireland. The only country in the world where the CEO of a maternity hospital is called a ‘Master’. I know I will find a doctor here who will be ‘sympathetic’, who will nod with understanding and who will do what I ask. I know he’s out there, I just don’t know who he is yet. I set myself a goal: By the end of next week, I shall have a new doctor and he (I am sure it will be a man) will perform the surgery that will make a new woman of me.