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A MOTHER'S LOVE
Mother's love grows by giving.
A Mother Is Born
Faith and doubt are both needed, not as antagonists, but working side by side to take us around the unknown curve.
My first child, a daughter, was born on July 27, 2000, and I found I was completely unprepared. I thought I was ready for her birth. I had read my books and articles on childbirth and baby care; I had bought everything on my shopping checklist. The nursery was ready for use, and my husband and I were anxiously awaiting her arrival. I was prepared for wakeful nights, endless diapers, sore nipples, crying (both hers and mine), and the feeling that I can't get anything done. I was prepared for sitz baths and hemorrhoids.
What I wasn't prepared for was the way the entire world looked different to me the minute she was born. I wasn't prepared for the fact that the sheer weight of my love for her would reduce me to tears on a daily basis. I didn't know that I wouldn't be able to get through my first lullaby to her because I wouldn't be able to sing through my tears. I didn't know that the world would suddenly become unbelievably beautiful and yet infinitely scarier. I didn't know that it would seem like a new place had been created inside of me, just to hold this incredible love.
I had no idea what it would feel like when the nurse wheeled my daughter in to me saying, "She's looking for you," and the way the image of her deep-blue eyes looking right at me would be seared in my heart forever. I didn't know that I could love someone so much it literally hurts, that a trip to Wal-Mart would make me feel like a protective mother bear guarding her cub, or that my first trip to the grocery store without her would break my heart.
I didn't know that she would forever change the way my husband and I look at each other, or that the process of giving birth to her and breast-feeding her would give me a whole new respect for my body. No one told me that I would no longer be able to watch the evening news because every story about child abuse would make me think of my daughter's face.
Why didn't anyone warn me about these things? I am overwhelmed by it all. Will I ever be able to leave her and think of anything but her, or see a crust in her eye or spot on her skin that doesn't make me nervous? Will I ever be able to show her and express to her just how deep and all-encompassing my love for her is? Will I ever be able to be the mother I so desperately want her to have?
I have heard it said, and I now know that it is true, that when a woman gives birth to her first child, there are two births. The first is the birth of the child. The second is the birth of the mother. Perhaps that is the birth that is impossible to prepare for.
Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.
Pamela Vaull Starr
It was only two weeks before Christmas, but fear, not cold, made my hands shake as I stood in the darkness of the hotel parking lot, trying to unlock my rental car. The Texas predawn air was balmy, and if I'd bothered to ask them, my relatives and friends would have assured me that I was about to set out on an errand as balmy as the weather. I was heading out to navigate my way alone, through a city of unfamiliar streets, to drive a nine-months-pregnant woman I'd met only the previous night to the hospital to deliver ... my child.
A widow for one year, a mother of four—three sons under twelve and a stepdaughter just starting college—a freelance writer with a hole in her kitchen floor the size of Lake Michigan, and a hole in her heart the size of an ocean, I had decided that what I needed to do was not to fix my linoleum or get a steady job—but to become a single mother to a baby daughter. This choice I'd made against all reason. It was a choice so controversial even among people who truly loved me that it had prompted more than one serious breach of friendship. After all, I was hardly fossilized, just enough past the age of forty to feel it in my knees. I could and would love and raise another child, a daughter.
With my husband, who'd died of colon cancer at forty-four the previous year, I had joshed longingly about another child, but I struggled with infertility. Adoption, our only possible route to parenthood, was both risky and expensive. My dreams of another child should have faded in the cold light of reality. But though many of the illusions of youth had indeed died with Dan, the idea that one day I'd sit myself down and write a big, fat best-selling novel and my fantasy of a baby daughter had not. I was determined. Since I knew for certain that over-forty moms (particularly those with big fannies and big families) were not exactly the dream dates of the millennium, I was reasonably sure I wouldn't marry again.
I wondered why it was so dark. I searched the frontage roads for a bank clock, and to my horror, realized it was only two o'clock in the morning, instead of six. In my confusion, I'd set the alarm wrong! So I spent the next few hours in an all-night diner, slugging down cups of coffee, regarding my reflection in the window and wondering who I was.
How had all this happened?
I'd found out about the adoption agency from a friend. We'd met at a holiday craft fair, and delighted as I was to see my pal, it was the occupant of her shoulder backpack I couldn't take my eyes off. He had a thick shock of dark hair and fine chiseled features of a baby Byron. His name was Jack, and my pal and her hubby had adopted him through an agency in San Antonio. I thought the agency would laugh so hard when I called that they'd never get to the point of sending me the application.
But the agency director had no problem with single parents, even widows with big holes in their floors. A few months later, I was filling out voluminous applications. And a few months after that, in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, I got a phone call. There was a nineteen-year-old birth mother who, against all reason, seemed to think I had the right stuff. Until just a week before, she'd been "matched" with the perfect couple, but they'd left her in the lurch when an ultrasound exam proved that the baby she was carrying was not the boy they dreamed of, but a girl.
That had been my only qualification. I wanted a girl. I figured luck would favor a little girl with three older brothers to protect her. The birth mother, whose name was Luz, thought the same thing.
I pulled the car up close to the stairs of the second-floor apartment where Luz, pretty and shy and grindingly poor, but already a good and proud mother to two unplanned babies, was watching for me through a crack in the window blinds. Luz had chosen me over dozens of other two-parent families. She'd even asked me to coach her labor. She believed in me.
Luz waved to me. She'd be down in a moment. The nanny the agency had sent to mind Luz's children had just arrived. I had five more minutes alone with my doubts.
This was the first really huge decision I'd ever made entirely on my own in my adult life. It made refinancing my house look like a game of beach volleyball and starting my own business seem like getting a perm.
Now, as I watched Luz open her apartment door and negotiate the slick pavement like a tightrope walker carrying a bowling ball, I let my smile show more confidence than I felt. For the moment, the lifetime commitment wasn't all I was worried about. There was the immediate future to contend with. For though I'd given birth myself, I'd never seen a baby born.
In the hospital, as Luz was hooked up to lines and monitors that would attend the induction of labor, I noticed shafts of watery winter light sliding through the blinds. It had been a cloudy morning, but the sun would shine today, after all. I took it as a sign. I was ready to accept any tiding of comfort and joy.
The medicine began to drip into the tubes, and quickly, contractions commenced. Luz breathed and blew; I counted. The hours crawled past. I looked up at the clock. I called my son and my friend at the hotel, and the director at the adoption agency. No, no one new was in the world yet. The contractions became more commanding, their clench gathering speed like a runaway sled. I phoned my older sons and daughter, and a sweetly intuitive nurse placed the receiver against the fetal heart monitor so that my nine-year-old son, Dan, a thousand miles due north in Wisconsin, could hear his baby sister's beating heart. The light was changing. The sun was bright at the west window; it was late afternoon and time for Luz, soothed by pain medication, to rest before pushing. I sat beside her as she moaned and slept, my cheek resting on her extended hand.
We were two single mothers—one probably too old for this and one certainly too young. It was December 8, in Catholic tradition the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and outside in the hall an Army choir was singing ancient songs about another single mother and the baby in the barn.
Soon it was time for Luz to push, and she gathered herself, silent and stoic, her clenched face like the image on an Aztec coin. Twice, she told me, "I can't go on." Twice, I told her she had no choice—neither of us did. I put my arms around her and we held on to one another, and in the light of that one bedside lamp, its cone the shape of a golden trumpet, in the whole universe, there were only the two of us.
And then, suddenly, slippery, just one minute after the doctor came rushing into the room, there were three—the third a baby woman who would grow up to understand all this and someday to endure it.
Together, Luz and I marveled over her tiny, flossy dark head. Our daughter for this moment. My daughter ever after. "Let Mom hold the baby," the doctor said gently. And Luz slowly raised one hand and pointed to me.
So I stood up alone and held her for the first time. And there she was, fairest of the fair she was, seven pounds and fifteen ounces of earth angel and nobody's baby but mine. I named her Francie Nolen, for a little girl in an old book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a little girl who came up strong and sure in circumstances that might have daunted a lesser spirit.
Francie might not have the inestimable benefit of a father. Her mother would have a crinkly smile and creaky knees, not bounce and sparkle. But there was some wisdom and not a little patience behind that crinkly smile. Francie would have siblings to champion her, as well as the support and comfort of all those doubters back home who'd be converted as soon as they laid eyes on her. Let them say I already had my hands full—weren't these big hands? I would not let any of my children down, nor let them feel that raising them had strained me past my limits.
As I looked down at Francie, I could feel those limits stretch and grow. I made a promise to her and the gallant girl who had given her life and given her up. My little girl would have laughs. She would have stories, good pasta twice a week, a house full of comforting noise. And most importantly, she would never, ever go to sleep except in the knowledge that she was loved beyond ... beyond reason.
That December night was five years ago. And indeed, Francie has grown up unique in many ways, but most especially in her boldness. She has the stride of a tiny prizefighter and the will of a lion cub.
Six months after her birth, my first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was published, and suddenly, we got not only a new floor where there had once been a hole, but a new chance at life. And as for the hole in our hearts, Francie's personality helped shrink it to bearable proportions, and one day, along came a brave young man who wanted not only me, squeaky knees and all, but all my brood, for his very own.
My husband and I were married just weeks after my second novel was published. It was called The Most Wanted, and it was in part about a young teenager who gave birth to a baby girl in terrible circumstances, but who, because of the intervention of an older woman who longed for a child, got a second chance. It was my attempt, in fiction, to correct what I could not correct in life for the birth mother of my little girl. I dedicated that book to my daughters, and also to Luz, whose name, in Spanish, means "light."
Spring of '59
Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.
Mama didn't know how to drive a car or write beautiful words. She didn't have money to take me shopping. But she could copy the latest fashions from looking at the Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog and sew me a dress when I needed it. Mama didn't have a convection oven. Her wood-burning stove sufficed. She baked cakes from scratch that Martha Stewart would envy today.
I remember the morning Mama came into my room and sat on my bed. She was quiet for a moment and seemed embarrassed. Then she looked me straight in the eyes and asked the question, "How would you like to have a new baby in the house?"
I knew there was no possibility of that, because I was seventeen, my sister twelve, and the two boys nine and eight. You couldn't start having babies after eight years! "Mama, don't be foolish." I didn't hesitate to tell her we had more kids than we had money as it was.
A shadow crawled across her face. "I'm three months pregnant." She walked out of my room and closed the door. I was sorry I'd hurt her feelings, but being the thoughtless teenager I was, I didn't apologize.
Mama tried hard to take care of the house and kids, but she had a difficult pregnancy that forced her to stay in bed much of the time. I hoped by helping out with the kids and the meals I might make amends for the things I'd said about the baby, although she never mentioned them.
I worried about Mama sometimes, but my head was filled with something more exciting. Soon it would be spring, and I would graduate from Franklin-Simpson High. Our class began working and earning money for our senior-class trip four years earlier. Starting in our freshman year we held bake sales, car washes and play productions. Finally, we did it: We earned enough money to charter two Greyhound buses to take the entire graduating class to Florida for a week! My parents were poor. I'd never been off the farm, let alone three states away—and be able to see the ocean! This trip was the epitome of a dream come true.
Mama, who had only finished the fourth grade, was almost as ecstatic as I was. She was happy about my Florida trip and had sewn some pretty clothes for me even after she had gotten sick. I had blue, red, pink and yellow skirts and blouses to match. I even had a petticoat made of a rainbow of colorful ruffles. But my graduation would be her dream fulfilled.
By early spring, Mama's face looked gray and unwell. Even I could see something was wrong. And her eyes didn't laugh anymore. Mama's eyes always laughed. Four days before I was to leave, the doctor admitted her into the hospital. I knew this was serious. In those days, farmers didn't have insurance and very little money to pay doctors. People didn't go to hospitals unless there was a chance they might die.
Dad worried about Mama. He couldn't afford to pay anyone to come in and help. We managed the best we knew how. Someone had to take care of the younger children and the farm; milk cows couldn't wait. I volunteered to stay with Mama nights while Dad managed the home and kids. I spent the nights sleeping in a chair beside Mama's bed, praying for God to spare her life, then walking across town to school in the mornings, riding the bus home, helping Dad with the kids, and later, going back to Mama's side for the night. I was so tired I ached all over.
I watched the calendar as the days passed. I didn't think Mama realized what day it was until she took my hand in hers and asked if I had my luggage packed. She said, "I want you to see Florida. Then you can tell me all about it, so I can feel like a part of me went to see the ocean." Mama longed to see the places that we read about in my geography books, but she could never afford to travel.
"I'm not going, Mama," I muffled a sob.
Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Mother and Daughter Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Dorothy Firman, Julie Firman, Frances Firman Salorio. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
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