Saturday, December 29, 2007

She's Twenty-One

At 5:08 AM today, I became the mother of a grown woman.

It doesn't feel any different...

I remember my daughter's birth so clearly. For weeks, I'd been unable to walk or sit for long without pain; my cartilage had all loosened up for the birth, and my pelvic bones rubbed together with a sensation of thunder and lightening. By the week before I had Hillary, I was already 4 cm dilated, but when my water broke, I took the time to wash my hair at the sink before heading over to the hospital. It seemed important to have clean hair...

It was a long night. There were only two bad moments--one was early on, when I thought I might be sick (and I hate being sick). The second came near morning, when I thought about how transition is supposed to be the stage in labor when it all gets really intense and overwhelming for a while, and if this is transition, then I'm all right--but if it gets much worse than this, I am so going to be in trouble. And it was transition, and it wasn't much later (because time gets very slippery when you're as busy as when you're giving birth is) that they were showing me my daughter.

I remember asking if she was a girl or a boy. You'd think I could have figured that out for myself: all the parts were there, after all. But it seemed to me that it would be a terrible thing to make a mistake about something like that, at the start of such an important relationship. I made the doctor tell me for sure.

I am not one of those mothers who, when their child is placed at their breast, feels a sudden outpouring of love and certainty. For one thing, the umbilical was still attached, and it didn't reach that far up my body. She was placed more or less on my belly, and I had to crane my neck a bit to take her in. Though it wasn't the sight of her that gave the scene it's unreality. I think it was the sudden change of focus. All those months about the inside of my body, about my inability to tie my shoes, my heartburn, the fluttering sensations--and poking, prodding sensations--coming from inside of me. I could sense her movements far earlier than the doctors and the birth books said I could... but when she was there, real, resting on my skin, I felt much more aware of the surprise of her than the familiarity.

Hello, there, small human. Where did _you_ come from?

Lots of memories of her over the years. I remember sitting with her in my lap, such a short time after her birth, the two of us watching the lights on our Christmas tree. Her first Christmas/Yule: my twenty-sixth. I remember walking her and walking her for long hours, night or morning, as time continued to telescope and slide oddly in the first weeks of her life.

I remember taking her snowshoeing, in a front pack and a bunny suit, her little face pinched with sleep. She loved the movement, and perhaps even the cold, Vermont baby that she was.

I remember taking her by the hand as she was learning to walk and to climb stairs, and walking down into the village with her, hand in hand, my muscles cramping as I bent so far over beside her. She had to climb every set of stairs we passed, up to all the front doors. I held her hand for each of them, the two of us equally solemn.

I remember taking her to secret pools and waterfalls on the back roads of Vermont. I remember buying her gifts for her first Christmas/Yule as an aware, reasoning being. I remember making her the black hobby horse with blue eyes she used so seldom, and putting her hair into pigtails.

I remember reading her her favorite books, and how she burst into fierce, fiery tears when we finished reading A Little Princess together, wild with anger that this, the perfect book, could end, until reassured that we could read it again as many times as we wanted.

I remember her jealously competing for Nora's attention when we first moved in here, and I remember her inconsolable grief when her great-grandmother died. I remember when I was the center of her world, and all my words were wisdom to her... and I remember the first time she used vocabulary she did not learn from me.

I remember the first time she stayed out past curfew; I remember the first time I rode as a passenger in a car she drove, and how very hard I tried to seem relaxed. I remember Peter teaching her: to tie her shoes. To use power tools. To drive that car.

I remember the smell of her little-girl hair when it needed a wash. I remember the feel of her infant skin when it was irritated by heat. The weight of her leaning up against me, napping or sucking her thumb when she was tired.

I can feel the warm skin of her baby scalp against my fingertips. I can feel it now, not just in memory.

And I remember watching her graduate: from high school, from community college. I remember a feeling of love and pride so intense it almost felt like it could kill me, burst me open at the seams.

I can feel that one now, not just in memory, too.

What I do not remember is how she got from there to here. It seems just as mysterious as that a small human being should arrive, suddenly, one December morning. Even with the umbilical cord intact, it felt incredible that I had anything to do with this process. And even with all these memories, I still have no sense of the process.

How on earth does it feel to be a mother? I'm still not sure I know.

Hello, there, grown human. Where did _you_ come from?

To my daughter: Happy 21st Birthday. May you be wiser than your mother, and at least as happy and beloved.

6 comments:

cubbie said...

reading this post is one of the at least 12 things i've chosen to do in the past week that has not made my baby fever lessen at all.

congratulations on having a grown-up. i'm not sure how she managed to be one so early. i'm 27 and am surely not one! ;-)

Erik said...

Things that make you go "awwwww":

1. Kittens
2. This post

:)

Thanks for making me smile. Suddenly I'm remembering the first time my daughter and I finished a book (a chapter-type book, not a picture book) and she made me start right back over again and read it all the way through again... that's when I knew we'd succeeded in creating a reader. (The book was "The Great Good Thing", by Roderick Townley, by the way. Highly recommended.)

Aquila ka Hecate said...

Hi Cat,
Motherhood is still the most miraculous thing about being a human.
We've managed to hang onto that at least!
Thank you for articulating so well the sensations and thoughts which -may She grant - will never leave our race.
Love,
Terri in Joburg

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Cubbie, thanks for stopping by. If your baby fever peaks sometime, may you have as loving and supportive a co-parent with yours as I have had. I have no idea how Hillary and I would have made it without Peter--we're too much alike, and I know we're both really glad he's been there to share the journey with us!

Erik, you know, I was thinking of you and your daughter as I posted this one--I knew you would understand the upwelling of feeling I was experiencing!

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Terri, thank you. Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words.

Blessed be,
Cat

- sm said...

Blessed be!

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