Today we celebrate fathers! We honor their involvement in the family unit and the influence that ultimately has on society. I celebrate my single mother’s strength and endless love; for she fulfilled two great roles.
Most of my life I have had unreasonable expectations of my mom. I expected her to be an all-knowing, all-healing divinity, indestructible and always ready to save the day. Now that I am a mother, I’m beginning to accept that my mom is a human being with flaws, faults, a past and struggles of her own. Some of these struggles are deep-rooted. One of them in particular dates back 25 years, the day I was born.
I have heard my mom talk about her birth and breastfeeding experiences many times in the past.
She reenacts the physician’s force, wrenching me out of the gash in her body. The operating table trembles. Bolts loosen by the effort to extract a baby engaged one direction, pulled in another.
Panic still lingers in her voice. “Where is my baby?!” as the medical team whisks my brand new body away from her after delivery. She didn’t even know she birthed a baby girl. No child to hold for many hours, just fingerprints bruised in her fleshy abdomen and a deep laceration to remind her of my birthday.
There’s everlasting sadness and frustration in her eyes, “If they just would have let me, then I could have…” She wishes for a chance to move freely during labor. She wishes for a chance to have faith in her body.
Her arms fumble her newborn struggling around a newly stitched, tender cut. She tries to feed me.
Then, a wince and furrow of her brow as she remembers the pain of breastfeeding. Her hands hover over her breasts. Cracks and bleeds on her nipples couple the agony of recent surgery.
These are the raw moments, some unprocessed moments, of my mom’s first birth experience.
After developing a fever, my mom was forced to stay at the hospital for an entire week. And during that entire week, not once was she visited by a lactation specialist. No one to assess our latch, no one to suggest different holds, no one to ease her first-time-mother concerns.
“I just struggled and did it on my own,” my mom remembers.
We lived states away from family and even so, she was the first woman to breastfeed in our family.
“When my sister saw me nurse, she would say, I couldn’t do that. I’m too self-conscious. I would be too embarrassed,” my mom tells me. There is no shame in breastfeeding.
She also remembers my grandma being a great help to her, bringing me to her to nurse so that she could heal. But she also recalls being pressured.
Are you sure she’s getting enough? my grandma would worry.
“Grandma made me more nervous than anybody.”
Breastfeeding allowed my mom to feel a very strong bond with me, she reminisces. She says it was convenient, too.
“I could stay in bed and I knew you were getting the right stuff: the right temperature and the right amount,” she adds. “And formula stinks to high heaven. Your spit up and poop didn’t stink.”
My mom went on to birth my little brother vaginally 29 months later. She breastfed him without any trouble.
“The second time around, I was more relaxed,” she says. “I knew I could do it.”
My first breastfeeding experience with Willow mirrors much of what my mom endured. A violent birth, minimal access to lactation specialists, and severe pain and discomfort while feeding.
Reflecting on my mother’s experiences and my own has reiterated that most of the issues that new mothers face are timeless. These experiences are also reminders that our births leave a lasting impression and impact our lives and the lives of our children in unimaginable and unpredictable ways.
Women need time to process our births; our disappointments, the surprises, the joy and sorrow. And so often we need healing. We need healing so that we can continue to mother, not only our own babies, but other mothers as well.
Up until recently, I hadn’t realized the impact that my healing birth experience with Iris has had on my mom.
When she talks about that day, there’s no regret, no pain in her tone.
She applauds the importance stressed on Iris laying with me and breastfeeding at her own pace instead of rushing to weigh her, measure, poke and prod.
“Those things can wait,” she says.
When my mom remembers the day we brought Iris Earthside, she exhales.