A pious woman of the neighborhood, a queen bee professor’s wife and a mother of six, once informed me that I ought never to give any parenting advice until I had at least four children. There was no way for mothers with less than four children to have anything to say. She then proceeded to inform me, without skipping a beat, that teething didn’t exist but was a scam to sell infant painkillers, and that attachment parenting was “idiotic” and all children needed was to be left alone to cry, so perhaps mothers of six aren’t qualified to give advice either. Maybe seven or eight is the magic number where you stop making mistakes.
In any case, I know I’m not qualified, so I won’t give you any advice.
Stories are another matter, though. I’m good at telling stories. Maybe a mother of one can presume to tell her story.
I once imagined that the act of getting pregnant would change me into a pleasant, maternal. chipper morning person who liked to cook and clean and nurture, and for a few months it seemed to. Someone ought to bottle second trimester hormones and turn them into a street drug; they are magical. I scrubbed the kitchen and alphabetized the spice rack; I washed the walls with an extended mop. I picked the prettiest baby sling, all covered in roses for a girl named Adrienne Rose. I read books on breastfeeding. I practiced with a baby-sized cushion.
Then, of course, came the botched childbirth, the abuse, the emergency c-section where the doctor mocked my naivete while he was cutting me open and then said “Look at that cone head. Look at that hair! He’s huge! Oh, he’s a girl.”
It was his second emergency c-section from the same con artist midwife’s clientele that night.
At some point during the surgery I threw up all over my own face, while my hands were strapped down unable to wipe it off. Before the nurse had finished cleaning me up, they brought me a beautiful girl with a shaggy head of black hair, all covered in white vernix. I kissed her. Slimy baby and slimy mother. A terrible mother who’d been taken in by a con artist.
When I got home from the hospital, I found that the midwife’s accomplice had taken the bassinet.
I tried to talk about what happened to the local moms’ group, and they warned me I had to keep quiet about it because the fake midwife’s accomplice had threatened to sue everyone on the email list if anybody mentioned the incident. They didn’t think of themselves as punishing the victim, just being practical. They brought me casseroles and admired the baby as if we were friends and they’d done nothing wrong. I don’t even think they understand why I stopped going to Mom’s Night Out on Wednesday evenings.
I was a terrible mother who couldn’t trust the local moms.
After that, there was colic for her, and terrified flashbacks for me. Neither of us could sleep more than two hours at a time. I sat up until five in the morning watching Julia Child videos with her, because we didn’t have a television but we did have Amazon Prime. A burned-out mother and a cranky baby.
I learned to breastfeed, somehow. My milk didn’t come in for four days, and when it did I almost immediately came down with thrush. I answered the door to accept a dinner from Michael’s deeply religious bachelor friend, thanked him, chatted for a moment, and went back inside, without noticing that I hadn’t snapped my nursing tank back together and had been flashing him the whole time.
My mother-in-law told me that Rose wouldn’t be able to move properly since she was above average size, but she fulfilled every milestone several weeks early. I tried to tell the pediatrician she was crawling a little at four months, but the pediatrician didn’t believe me until Rosie interrupted our conversation by crawling right into the wall.
I was a terrible mother who couldn’t keep her bra on and couldn’t stop her baby from bumping her head on the wall.
I had next to no one to talk to, so I filled the day by going for walks. I walked for hours with Rose in the rose-covered sling, through the ugly streets of Steubenville, with people shouting at me that I ought to use a stroller. I walked her to the playground and sat with her on the grass, or pushed her in the swing. At first she didn’t seem to notice it; then, after awhile, she reached for handfuls of grass and played with them.
I admitted to someone, once, about the unrelenting post-partum depression, and was told that post-partum depression is a scam invented to sell antidepressants. I didn’t talk about it again.
I watched the other mothers churn out baby after baby after baby, a child every eighteen months. Pious people stopped saying “thank you for being a witness to life” as Rose got older and older. I admitted to myself that I might end up only being able to have the one. One slimy baby and one terrible slimy mother, with no happy birth story and no one to talk to, walking through the ugly streets to the park.
Being a mother didn’t look like I thought it would. I didn’t feel like I felt a mother ought. I didn’t have the right number of children to earn any respect. I wasn’t even welcome to talk about what happened.
“I’m a terrible mother,” I blurted out one day, as Rose was toddling around the room.
Rose looked quizzically at me. “You Mommy,” she said.
“But am I a good mommy or a bad mommy?”
Rose smiled. “I don’t know. You Mommy.”
I wish I’d asked her first.
(image via Pixabay)