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THE MAKING OF A MOTHER
A mother's love doesn't begin with the mother, or the child, let alone a set of rules or recommendations or anything having to do with the mind. A mother's love comes on like a thunderstorm. You may or may not hear the low rumble as it approaches, you may or may not have time to close your windows and call in your cat. But when the storm comes the storm is all there is. The sky opens and weeps and howls and devours.
--Jeanne Marie Laskas, Washington, D.C.
Giving birth is little more than a set of muscular contractions granting passage of a child. Then the mother is born.
Making the decision to have a child--it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
The Lightning Bugs Are Back
By Anna Quindlen
The lightning bugs are back. They are small right now, babies really, flying low to the ground as the lawn dissolves from green to black in the dusk. There are constellations of them outside the window: on, off, on, off. At first the little boy cannot see them; then, suddenly, he does. "Mommy, it's magic," he says.
This is why I had children: because of the lightning bugs. Several years ago I was reading a survey in a women's magazine and I tried to answer the questions: Did you decide to have children: A. because of family pressure; B. because it just seemed like the thing to do; C. because of a general liking for children; D. because of religious mandates; E. none of the above.
I looked for the lightning bugs; for the answer that said because sometime in my life I wanted to stand at a window with a childand show him the lightning bugs and have him say, "Mommy, it's magic." And since nothing even resembling that answer was there, I assumed that, as usual, I was a little twisted, that no one else was so reductive, so obsessed with the telling detail, had a reason so seemingly trivial for a decision so enormous. And then the other night, yellow bug stars flickering around us, my husband said, in a rare moment of perfect unanimity: "That's it. That's why I wanted them, too."
The lightning bugs are my madeleine, my cue for a wave of selective recollection. My God, the sensation the other night when the first lightning bug turned his tail on too soon, competing with daylight during the magic hour between dusk and dark. I felt like the anthropologist I once met, who could take a little chunk of femur or a knucklebone and from it describe age, sex, perhaps even height and weight.
From this tiny piece of bone I can reconstruct a childhood: a hot night under tall trees. Squares of lighted windows up and down the dark street. A wiffle ball game in the middle of the road, with the girls and the littlest boys playing the outfield. The Good-Humor man, in his solid, square truck, the freezer smoky and white when he reaches inside for a Popsicle or a Dixie cup. The dads sitting inside in their Bermuda shorts watching Car 54, Where are You? The moms in the kitchen finishing the dishes. The dull hum of the fans in the bedroom windows. The cheap crack of the wiffle bat. The bells of the ice-cream truck. The lightning bugs trapped in empty peanut-butter jars that have triangular holes in the lids, made with the point of a beer-can opener. The fading smears of phosphorescent yellow-green, where the older, more jaded kids have used their sneaker soles to smear the lights across the gray pavement. "Let them out," our mothers say, "or they will die in there." Finally, perfect sleep. Sweaty sheets. No dreams.
We were careless. We always forgot to open the jars. The lightning bugs would be there in the morning, their yellow tails dim in the white light of the summer sun, their feet pathetic as they lay on their backs, dead as anything. We were always surprised and a bit horrified by what we had done, or had failed to do. As night fell we shook them out and caught more.
This is why I had children: to offer them a perfect dream of childhood that can fill their souls as they grow older, even as they know that it is only one bone from a sometimes troubled body. And to fill my own soul, too, so that I can relive the magic of the yellow light without the bright white of hindsight, to see only the glow and not the dark. Mommy, it's magic, those little flares in the darkness, a distillation of the kind of life we think we had, we wish we had, we want again.
Anna Quindlen is a nationally syndicated columnist, novelist, and mother living in New Jersey.
It's like you grow another heart, like someone kicks down a door that was sealed shut, and then the whole world--sunshine, flowers--falls through. I have such joy that I didn't think was possible.
Even though I'm not a terribly religious person, I feel that this child was born for me.
When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. You are connected to your child and to all those who touch your lives. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.
What It Means to Be a Mother
By Katrina Kenison
When I was pregnant with my first child, I spent hours visualizing various delivery scenes, trying in vain to imagine how it would feel to give birth. I worried about birth defects and premature labor, practiced breathing, experimented with recommended delivery positions, and, like a good student, I read practical guidebooks about breast-feeding and newborn care. I thought I was preparing, as well as I could, to have a baby. But my daydreams rarely took me beyond the delivery room; birth itself was the main event, the one that seemed at once so frightening and so exciting. Once the baby arrived, well, it went without saying--we would all come home and begin our life together as a family.
How could I have spent so much time thinking about the birth process and so little envisioning what might lie beyond it? Perhaps, deep down, I realize that there was no preparing for the experience of motherhood itself, or for the irrevocable transformation that would occur as my son was delivered out of my body and into my arms. A new person took his place on earth in that moment, and, in the same instant, I became new. I was a mother. From that moment on, I have seen the world through different eyes.
As mothers, we are bound by depths of pain and waves of joy that those who have not raised children will never know. In each of our children we see a miracle of life--even as we realize, with sudden insight, that the world is full of just such miracles. I called my own mother at three a.m.--as the obstetrician sat on a stool between my legs, stitching my episiotomy with long black thread--and told her she was a grandmother. An hour and a half later, she slipped into my room, having driven alone in the dark, without direction, to a city hospital she had never been to before. She talked her way past the security guards and the night nurses, and she came to me. I was not altogether surprised to see her, though; it was just beginning to dawn on me what it means to be a mother.
Katrina Kenison is the author of Mitten Strings for God and the mother of two sons.
When a child enters the world through you, it alters everything on a psychic, psychological, and purely practical level.
I was changed forever. From a woman whose "womb" had been, in a sense, her head--that is to say, certain small seeds had gone in, and rather different if not larger or better "creations" had come out--to a woman who . . . had two wombs!
When my daughter was born something inside me which had long been slumbering kicked into gear. It has been functioning, neurotically and unbidden, ever since.
--Barbara Zucker, New York, New York
The baby is born and your life is changed more than you ever dreamed. You find you have sprouted invisible antennae that pick up every alteration in breathing, every variation in temperature, every nuance of expression in your tiny daughter. No one tells you that the change is irreversible. That you will feel in your heart every pain, every loss, every disappointment, every rebuff, every cruelty that she experiences life long.
I didn't want to be pregnant. Or so I thought, through my vehement twenties and well into my still-strident thirties. I was a seventies' feminist for whom a woman's creative freedom meant a room of one's own and no one to answer to whenever I felt like taking in a late-night poetry reading or catching a train to some political event. I could not stop for the minutiae of motherhood, I told myself, when the world itself was like a sick child--hungry, homeless, crazed with material dreams--and in desperate need of advocacy. Mother love? No Pampers or strained peaches for me. Rather, I would channel my nurturing energies into social causes, a writer with a sort of feminized earth-mother soul.
But the more I wrote, the less I believed in the power of words alone to heal. I came to see that just as all politics in the end are personal, so too is life's deepest poetry. Meaning began at home, and all the pain in the world wasn't deep enough to wipe out the impulse for personal renewal.
Thus, on the cusp of forty, I began trying to conceive a child. For five years I existed in a shadow land of yearning and disappointment. I learned what it was to want what I could not will. As I sat in clinic offices staring at photographs of alpine meadows and gorgeous mountain vistas intended to help me think positive thoughts, I grew more deeply engulfed in a grief that even loved ones could not know existed. The stories of mothers and their children were like enchantments to me, meditations from a state that I began to believe I would never attain.
And then one miraculous October day, a heart beat alongside mine. Hands reached toward the light through the amniotic ocean. The first time I saw my son's two-chambered heart, I wept. And the moment, eight and a half months later, when I heard his first yelp of assertion upon arriving in the world, I knew that creation had begun anew. As his ruddy head rooted at my breast, rapt with the newness of sense and hunger, I realized that to love this child through the arduous struggle into manhood would be the greatest creative act I would ever perform.
--Kathleen Hirsch, Boston, Massachusetts
There's a grating suppression in the pit of my stomach. It's a resisting, guttural reaction to the fact that my life is inescapably constructed around motherhood. Biologically and psychologically, as a social construction and as a familial one, I am defined as a mother and always will be.
--Janet Maloney Franze, Richmond, Virginia
As a first-timer at age forty-three, my outlook on life after the first twelve weeks of motherhood combined apprehension with exhaustion. What did I know about taking care of a baby? Even with a supportive husband and a nearly live-in grandma, I found it hard to reconcile the awesome responsibility with my apparent (to me) inadequacy. I felt as helpless as, well, a baby!
One late-night feeding, as Tommy drifted to sleep, I got up from the rocking chair to lay him back down in his crib. Cuddled up to my chest, he very gently laid one tiny baby hand directly over my heart. In the warmth and weight of his touch, terror and exhaustion gave way to an indescribable feeling of peace and wonder and gratitude.
And then my little angel pursed his tiny lips and blew his first perfect baby raspberry.
As I shook with silent laughter trying not to wake him, I knew I was truly a mommy. I still feel sometimes overwhelmed--that goes with the territory--but it's really joy disguised as something else. It's mommyhood.
--Bernadette Price, Mahopac, New York
You will love your baby with such a fierce single-mindedness that being someone's mother is the only endeavor on earth that you will be certain nature fully intended for you.
It's like life holds a secret, and having a child is that secret.
I knew that I would love my child, but I had no idea it would fill me with such a sense of completion.
It has been the greatest wonder of my life to know the love of my own child and to see the way a child develops a loving heart for people.
--Kathie Lee Gifford
I've seen my name in letters as tall as a house. I've been toasted by audiences who've seen me on international television. I've won virtually every major award my career offers. I say all of that simply to say this: I've never been as fulfilled as I was when my son was born.
I've always been amazed by the miracle of it all. And the mystery.