Even now, a year and two months after the fact, I struggle to speak directly about minimagpie’s birth. I struggle because I found–and still find–the c-section traumatic. I hate to use that word, trauma, as my very uncomplicated and straight-forward delivery of mini does not qualify for such freighted language, but words fail me, and I can’t find a better way to express the experience. It was more than intense. It was more than uncomfortable. It was seminal, enormous, unprocessable for me. In the weeks following minimagpie’s birth, I routinely refused to nap when my mother or Mr. Magpie would quietly remove mini from my arms and tiptoe out of the room — “shh, just take a little nap,” my mom would whisper over her shoulder.
“No, no — stay here,” I would protest. I’m sure she thought it was because I was too attached to mini, too full of new-mom-ness. But the truth was that I was afraid to be left to my own thoughts. I knew that — given a stretch of time devoid of attending to mini’s diapers or gurgles or uncoordinated movements — my mind would inevitably return to the c-section, and I was petrified of its memory. My eyes still fill with tears when I think about laying on that table, my arm’s stretched out into a t shape, connected to IVs and monitors, before Mr. Magpie was permitted into the operating room. I felt horribly alone despite the fact that the room was crowded with nurses and anesthesiologists and doctors. I stared up at the ceiling and tears streamed down my cheeks.
“Oh no — what’s going on, Jen?” asked the doctor, who wasn’t my doctor. You see, I had a scheduled c-section for 9 a.m. that morning with my doctor — one I knew well and implicitly trusted — but my water broke at 3 a.m., and they’d decided to perform the c-section earlier than expected, as I was having regular contractions. But my doctor, who lived in the Chicago suburbs, couldn’t make it in on time. I blinked at the ceiling and — though I knew it was rude — did not reply to not-my-doctor’s inquiry. I couldn’t. I didn’t know what was going on.
“Did everything just become…real?” she prodded. Her voice was soothing but I felt a bit like she was performing a routine speech she delivered to all of her new moms-to-be. I nodded, but that wasn’t it at all. I started saying Hail Marys. My mother had given me a finger rosary she’d worn during the births of all five of her children, but the doctor had told me I wasn’t permitted to hold it during the procedure, as they use some sort of electricity and I wasn’t to wear anything that could conduct a current. Instead, I began, shakily, to recite the prayer in my mind, for the first of about twenty million times that morning.
When Mr. Magpie entered, decked out in scrubs, I could see the concern, the fear on his face. He was trying — with difficulty — to keep it together, but there I was, strapped to a table, my arms sticking straight out, tears streaming down my cheeks. My body had started to convulse violently. They later told me this was normal, common — but it felt as though my body was enduring some sort of emotional paroxysm, wildly shuddering in spite of my efforts to keep still. Mr. Magpie sat on a stool by my head and stroked my hair. I couldn’t hold his hand because mine were shaking so intensely. I could see the tenderness in his eyes, the gentleness, the love. In that moment, my fear subsided and my anxieties instead attended to Mr. Magpie–how horrifying it must have been to sit there, helpless, while your wife underwent such a bizarre and inhuman experience. I say inhuman with care, with delicacy — women who have c-sections are just as natural as those who deliver vaginally — but it felt so implausible, so disturbing to be lying awake while my body was cut open. I was oddly thankful for the excuse of fretting over someone else’s anxieties as I projected myself into Mr. Magpie’s perspective, emoting around how he must have been feeling — completely beside himself, helpless.
Only a few minutes after they’d begun, I heard the doctor say, in a coaxing voice, “Come on, sweetie. Come on,” as she tugged. I knew mini was close. And then she and the attending doctor pulled and yanked with such force that I thought my body was going to fly off the table. Mr. Magpie looked on in disbelief; I could see shock written all over his face, and I knew it must have looked as weird as it felt. I had been warned by my sister in law about this — that they really need to get in there to get the baby out. But when I heard the doctor grunt with effort — grunt! — I just about lost my mind. I remember looking at Mr. Magpie in desperation, thinking, “Can this just end. Can.this.just.end.” But instead, I stared back up at the ceiling and returned to my mish-mash of Hail Marys.
At 7:01 a.m., we first heard her cry. Mr. Magpie and I looked at each other. We didn’t burst into tears, because we were already crying, but — there was something different. A sense of awe, wonderment. I had waited for this moment with such intensity, such angsty anticipation. I had prepared for a feeling of fierce connection to that cry. I had heard it described as though the cry was coming from inside you — that, instantly, you were bound to that cry, to that voice. I didn’t feel that way, though. I was in awe, but I was, frankly, distressed. I was anxious to get out of that operating room, and the bulk of the surgery still lay ahead — it took them another thirty minutes to stitch and clean everything up, and that thirty minutes was agony. I didn’t feel pain, but I was uncomfortable, exhausted, terrified at the thought of my body open on the table in front of me. Prior to the c-section, I had asked my doctor if I could do skin-to-skin just after mini was born. In the room, I had no idea how that was remotely possible. My body was still shaking uncontrollably, and my arms spread out to the sides. I craned around to look at minimagpie in Mr. Magpie’s arms, my neck sore from the awkward angle. I strained to feel motherly, but I just wanted the operation to be over.
Finally — finally — they finished up and prepared to wheel me out of the room. They put mini in my arms, and I looked down at her for the first time. I had expected a huge surge of love to come pouring out of my soul, had prepared for some sort of fierce I-am-mother-hear-me-roar sentiment — but that wasn’t quite it for me. I looked down, and I wept. I wept with relief. Relief that the wait was over. Relief at the sight of her. Relief that I was out of the operating room. Relief that I could now focus on recovery, and that the most horrifying unknowns were behind me. Relief that nothing had gone sideways. Relief that she was here, and she was perfect. Relief was the predominant emotion. I was embarrassed to admit that to myself. I kept searching around for that huge feeling of motherhood I’d been planning for. I kept prodding myself — “Come on, Jen. You can do better than this. Where’s that huge rush of motherliness?” But relief washed over me and hung around, subduing all else. I didn’t feel like a mom in that moment–whatever that meant. I felt like me. I felt like a battered, exhausted, terrified version of me, with a cool sensation of relief slowing taking over.
It would take a few days, or maybe weeks, really, for me to feel like a mother. And sometimes, still, when I am solo, traipsing down Columbus from the 67 Street Wine shop or popping into the Wells Fargo at 72nd and Broadway, and I see a mom with her daughter, I pause — “Am I a mom? I’m a mom?! Me?!” And I wonder whether those women see me and dismiss me as a non-mom, or sense the motherliness in me.
I had expected — wanted — to feel like a mother immediately, at her first cry. And I know that it happens that way for some women. But it took time for me, this process of matrescence. It was a gradual and unobtrusive evolution. I was me, and now I am a mother me, and there was nothing immediate about it. I can’t quite mark when things shifted, but I do know this: it’s always in the private, unseen moments of caring for mini that I feel most like her mother. The lingering moments in the bath tub, when mini is clean and I draw the wash cloth one more time behind her ears, under her chin, making sure I’ve not missed any spots. The tiptoe-ing into her nursery, risking havoc thanks to a thunderous pocket door, just to peer over the crib rail at her for a second before I retire to bed myself. The swiping of her too-long bangs out of her eyes with my palm, a gesture of love I have observed in other mothers for decades — but now, that is me, and that small act of preening, of care, is my own. The shedding or adding of layers of clothing according to the weather. The packing of an extra cardigan, just in case. The biting in half of a too-large blueberry to prevent a choking hazard. The quick, wrist-y extension of the sunshade on her stroller when we’ve turned toward the sun. The reading of Dear Zoo for the fourth time in a row because she continues to open all the flaps on each page, smiling until the last one, when she slams the cover shut and holds it out toward me, with a provocative: “Thith? Thith?” (Again! Again!) The slathering of sunscreen. The wielding of the digital thermometer when she’s too squirmy for a diaper-change, as I know it will distract her for a couple of minutes.
These unremarkable details are the fabric of my motherhood. Nothing dramatic or over-the-top about them–they are, simply, the silent devotions of a mother to her child, the self-same ones practiced by women in rural India and northern Ireland and the southernmost tip of Argentina. But just beyond these quiet minutaie lies a hot, fierce love, which occasionally bubbles up into elbows-out protectiveness, or sentimental sobs, or an outburst of kisses that leaves mini writhing out of my reach.
And so I sit here, on the eve of Mother’s Day, thinking about being a mother me. Thinking about the gradual but blink-an-eye-and-you’ll-miss it trip from the trauma — yes, I’ll call it trauma — of her delivery to the twenty-two minutes I spent yesterday watching her feed her babydoll with a spoon, making her own motherly sounds as she did so (“nnnnuuu nnnuu nnuuu, ohhhhh” she said, in a high-pitched falsetto, aping sounds I must make myself when doting on her). And the bigness and depth of my love for my daughter versus the slightness and inconsequence of my day-to-day maternal attentions — they together form the elegant but lopsided dance of motherhood, a pattern of crescendo and diminuendo, of surge and sweep, of rush and stop.
Happy mother’s day.
Great mother’s day gifts (it’s not too late!).
Revision: any of these are actually the perfect outfits for this weekend!
This nude dress is divine. (And under $120!)
Now on my lust-list: these tortoise shades.
I need this monogrammed weekender. LOVE the monogram style!
This cutlery would also be darling for your next al fresco dining adventure!
I can’t stop ogling at this playsuit. I’d feel like the Queen of Sheba in it.