Yesterday was the anniversary of Rose’s baptism.
I can’t even find a photo to show you of Rose’s baptism.
This year I broke down and told Rose’s nightmare birth story in excruciating detail, and was abused for it because that’s what happens when women tell their stories of being raped and abused. Now I’ll tell the baptism story.
Rose’s baptism was a slapdash affair. We were still going to the grim Baroque church downtown, the one with the Latin Masses and no clean celiac chalice for my allergy. I was still reeling from trauma from the abusive birth. I couldn’t sleep for more than two hours at a time. Rose had colic. We didn’t have any money. I was in such an odd head space that when my estranged mother called me at the hospital after the childbirth, I actually talked with her and said she could come visit. I convinced myself that things were going to go right.
I can’t imagine why I thought that, but I did.
It was the first Sunday of Advent.
I was in such a weird traumatized head space that I hadn’t bonded with Rose properly. I don’t know if any mother ever does, but I knew I didn’t. The Doctor Sears book claimed that skin-to-skin, ecological breastfeeding and constant babywearing would guarantee a nice secure bond between mother and baby. I’d feel “addicted” to Rose and as if she was a part of my body. But I didn’t. I could tell she was gorgeous and everything that she ought to be. I loved to play patty-cake with her tiny hands and tickle her tiny feet. But I didn’t feel addicted. I felt exhausted. I felt dissociated. I felt crowded when I wore her in a sling and I detested the odd, ticklish, niggling discomfort of breastfeeding. I didn’t feel like a mother. I felt felt as if I was a babysitter and any minute Rose’s real parents would come home, pay me fifteen dollars and a stick of gum, and drive me home so I could get some rest. But her real parents never came. I kept on not getting rest.
We were nearly an hour late for the pre-baptism meeting with old Monsignor because the bus didn’t come when we expected. When we finally got there, we were soaking wet from waiting in the rain for so long. The priest gave us his usual memorized speech about the importance of baptism, and he kept calling Rose “Ella” because “Ella” was the name of the last child he baptized. We were still calling Rose “Adrienne,” her first name, instead of Rose, her middle one. “Rose” and “Rosie” just seemed to fit better once she and I had bonded, but we were not bonded, and she was still Adrienne at the moment.
My mother visited a month before the baptism. She brought me a case of disposable diapers and a christening gown knitted for me by a friend of hers. The gown was lumpy, as thick and as comfortable to wear as a heavy dish towel, so I accepted it graciously and then put it away in a drawer. I had another christening gown for Rose, a nice soft eyelet one I’d gotten on Etsy right after the ultrasound said Rosie was a girl.
So of course, when the morning of the baptism came, I dressed her in the pretty eyelet gown and turned my back for a moment to get the camera; when I turned back, she’d urinated spectacularly all over it. So I dressed her in a plain white onesie and carried the un-wearable christening gown with her out to Michael’s father’s car, to the Mass and the baptism.
Michael’s father complimented the gown on the hanger. No one would compliment her once I got the dress on her; it only looked nice when there wasn’t a human trying to wear it. We drove downtown in the gray leaden rain of a late November, when everything was uglier than ugly.
My parents and my siblings were there at the church, pretending everything was fine. It was the first time I’d seen two of my brothers in years, and would turn out to be the last time I saw them as well. My sister oohed over the baby as aunts are supposed to do. They sat behind Michael, Rosie and me in the pew. Every time I lifted my blouse to breastfeed, my mother would reach up behind me and tug it down to cover my puckered mountain range of post-c-section belly rolls. I didn’t like to be touched without asking, especially so soon after the birth rape, but I let it go because I was trying to be personable.
After Mass, we went to the front of the church. I don’t know why Monsignor didn’t use the great big stone baptismal font in the foyer, the one that was kept behind an impressive locked grille. But he brought out a small table and what looked like a punch bowl, to perform the ritual in the front by the communion rail. I quickly packed Rose into that detested thick itchy baptism gown, which made her fussy at first, but she tolerated it.
As the priest prayed, I was reminded of my great grandmother, a devout Irish Catholic lady who’d grown up in the grim Irish ghetto in Columbus, Ohio. Grandma Anna Rita had a superstition that a baptism wasn’t valid unless a baby screamed and cried during the whole thing. The screaming and crying were a sign that the exorcism had worked and the devils were fleeing into the swine. A baby who stayed quiet during her baptism was still possessed.
Rosie stayed perfectly quiet like a china doll as the priest took out a big cockle shell and poured the water on her over the punch bowl. “Adrienne Rose, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
And he handed my daughter to me.
Her gray-blue infant eyes opened just a crack, to see what the fuss and cold sensation were about, and I looked into the eyes of my daughter, flesh of my flesh. I looked into the eyes of God’s daughter, flesh of His flesh through the sacrament just as I am.
And for the first time since the emergency Caesarian, she felt like my daughter.
Nothing went right, and nothing would go right for the longest time. But I was a mother and she was my daughter and we two were sisters because we were both children of God.
No wind at the window, no knock on the door
No light from the lamp stand, no foot on the floor
No dream born of tiredness, no ghost raised by fear
Just an angel and a woman and a voice in her ear…
No payment was promised, no promises made
No wedding was dated, no blue print displayed
Yet Mary, consenting to what none could guess
Replied with conviction, “tell God I say yes.”
Next we had a truly awful party with potluck casseroles, and after that a dull Autumn, and after that a terrible Christmas where my parents withdrew their invitation to visit at the very last minute leaving us stranded with nothing and nowhere to celebrate. I only ever saw them once after that, when they cut ties for good.
But just then, everything felt right.
I felt like a mother.
It was the first Sunday of Advent.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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