I’ve written on Medium before about my experience of making eye-to-eye contact with my firstborn child which event took place almost 48 years ago. The pregnancy itself had been a blast, an experience I totally enjoyed right up until I didn’t, which was about five hours into what would become a 14-hour labor. I’d taken to pregnancy as if I’d been made for it, as, indeed, I had been! I felt powerful and provocative and it showed. But I took my delight even further, designing my own sexy dresses so that I could show off my bourgeoning breasts. (Who the hell designs maternity clothes for stores anyway? It almost seems as if they are intended to have onlookers skim right over women in a “nothing-to-see-here” kind of a way. “This person never had sex — really — please just look away.”)
All that power and pleasure faded fast though in the face of the process of actual act of birthing. I’d been OK with the pain for the first few hours; I could deal. But once I’d reached my limit, I was literally begging for medication… for something, anything… unconsciousness would have been good. The final I-don’t-know-how-many-minutes were the most stressful. The heartbeats stopped and, upon my son’s entry into the world, he was not breathing. So, this hard-fought birthing experience was going to yield me a dead child???? Like hell it was. I cursed my baby all the way out… Like any new mother does, right? I’m guessing — energetically speaking — that didn’t exactly get our relationship off to the best start.
Having been the oldest of 11, I knew how to take care of a baby; I wasn’t intimidated by that aspect of the relationship at all. Practical, I could do. Love, however, was something I didn’t know about and had no real history with, not one that was any good anyhow. My mother was a physician first, a Good-Morning-America caliber physician; my father had begun an intimate relationship with me — on her OK — before I was even in school. To me, it had felt like love… probably because that was as close as I ever got to love that I was conscious of as a child.
I knew how to provide all the services necessary to sustain and support the life of an infant child. I had no idea, however, how to relate to one except as, essentially, hired help. The moment when I first became completely cognizant of just exactly how ill-suited I was to the job of “being a mother” is still vividly emblazoned on my mind; it’s as if it had just occurred and it comes to mind often, as my son and I have been estranged for some years now, by his decree. I have honored his request precisely because of the guilt I carry about having let him down so badly both as an infant and, later, as a child, when I reluctantly relinquished custody of both my children to their father. The look on my son’s face when that happened, also, I will never forget… I wish I could.
All that said, I realized only this morning exactly the word for how I had felt on the day when his infant eyes met mine and I had shrunk inside, knowing how unworthy I was of raising a child who was putting his entire life in my hands, me not knowing a thing about “mother love.” I know that he had to have felt what I was feeling every bit as strongly as I did; infants know energy… it’s all they’ve got to rely on… they are tuned in. I had been intimidated; intimidated by him and by the task at hand: loving. I knew I would fail and I knew it so concretely that ultimately, I did.
My inability to believe in myself as worthy or capable undermined that relationship from the start. I had no idea what I was doing at the time; it would be decades before I understood the power of the mind, especially when it comes to one’s own self. We create the lives we live as an adult but if the life we’ve lived as a child — something that is mostly out of our hands — doesn’t illustrate in some way what a life can — or should — be, then we can have trouble not just taking aim at what we would like to be or to have but quite possibly never even knowing what it is that we might like to have or be.
My troublesome birthing experience with my son taught me that I didn’t want to do that again so I went on to teach myself — from books — how to have a birthing experience that would benefit both my relationship with my next child and my own relationship with myself. That decision was possibly my first step into understanding that there were things that I could do for myself, to help myself. It would be decades before I’d consciously realize that I could help others by helping myself be a better person, but I think I may finally have gotten there… close, anyway. I’m not stupid, but I am a dangerously slow student.