Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fear of Floods: Finding Freedom in Motherhood

Becoming a parent for the first time is terrifying.  This teeny tiny life is placed into your hands and you and you alone are responsible for it.  Everything that you acquire to keep your baby safe comes with a warning label screeching the danger of child injury or death.  You decide to co-sleep with this tender little life rather than leave it alone in a crib.  You get a bed rail when he begins to roll that’s covered with labels forewarning you against putting a baby in an adult bed.  Other parents say, Aren’t you afraid of rolling over on him?  I think, Aren't you afraid of alienating her?  You navigate your way amidst this sea of dangers. 

Whether you take all the alarm bells in stride or whether you fret and worry will depend largely upon your nature.  It will also depend upon experience.  I have become more relaxed about certain things now that I’ve been at this for a year and a half.  If my son drops his apple on the supermarket floor I pick it up and give it back to him without wiping it off first.  Once I was scolded by a West Indian grandmother for not having my boy’s ankles covered in the winter weather.

But appearances can be deceiving.  Your level of anxiety over your child’s safety also depends on what may have happened to you in your life, or what happens along the path of parenthood. 

When my baby was eight months old, my sister took her own life by jumping from the roof of her Brooklyn apartment building.   It was like the earth cracking open beneath my feet.  The whole family was deeply shaken.  I was overwhelmed with the trauma of sudden loss, with guilt over not having saved her, over the possibility that she had become more sad in juxtaposition to my joy as a mother, (she was 47, and had never born a child), and with an immense and complicated grief.   The lifelong wound of having lost my father to the effects of bipolar disorder as an eleven year old was reopened in addition to the new wound of losing my sister Gaby in our forties.   

My generally optimistic nature, and my child’s contagious happiness, along with a strong and supportive family and weekly therapy have helped me to rise above the sorrow and focus on being a strong and positive and nurturing mother.  Being able to look at myself and the situations in which I find myself with a sense of humor has been an essential tool in my survival kit.  Writing also gives shape and voice to the anxieties that grip me, and in so doing releases me from them. 

But still there are times in life when one’s psyche has to work overtime to make sense of things.  The week before the perigee moon would loom huge above our dazzled, moon-swept faces, massive earthquakes struck Japan.  The subsequent tsunami swept away whole villages in the blink of an eye.  Then, more locally, in our sleepy little town, a three year old girl died, allegedly at the hands of her own mother.  Let’s just say that my trauma sensors were on high.  I went to a Women’s Gathering on the night of the full moon to hear Joan Borysenko speak and I wore my sister’s four hundred dollar Thierry Rabotin pewter dancer’s shoes for the party afterward, one of several pairs she bought in the height of her psychosis when she probably wanted nothing more than to dance her ass off to the Talking Heads, commune with the angels, and get her six figure job back.

I didn’t get to dance in my sister’s shoes for her that night.  I did get to hear most of Borysenko’s interesting  talk, entitled “Rising Tide of Light: Developing Resilience in Times of Change” before the hubby called me at 8:20, after I had been out of the house for four hours straight, a big record over our previous two hour record, with baby wailing in the background.  “I think he’s had it,” hubby said. 
The sound of the baby crying over the phone flooded me in Cortisol.  Within three minutes of getting off the phone I scooped up my purse and turned on the car.  Seven minutes after that I was pulling into our driveway.  The baby boy had a big smile on his face.  He also had a very wet diaper.  Ten minutes later, after changing him and putting him to my breast, he was asleep. 

That morning as the last of the moon’s milky light bathed our side of the planet I had a terrible dream.  I was at an enormous indoor swimming pool with my new family.  I was on the deep end, contemplating the diving board, and I had left my one year old on the side of the pool behind me, between his father, who was on the shallow end, and me.  I had turned my back for one moment.  When I turned back to Cayce, pool water was lapping up onto the side of the pool and covering his face.  When the water pulled away from his face it was blank, motionless, and unresponsive.  I ran to him and picked him up by his feet and hung him upside down but no cough came.  No water sputtered out of his mouth.  He was as still as a statue.  “Help me!” I cried.  “He’s not breathing!  Help me!”

When I woke up, my one year old was breathing steadily beside me in our bed, the moon was gone, replaced by a brilliant sun.

There are a couple of things that strike me about this dream.  The pool, first of all.  Womb water, a force of creation, also with it’s power to destroy.  And the fact that my partner, Cayce’s father, was there with me… that despite his presence, Cayce was my responsibility.  I carried my child into the world, and whatever happens to him falls at my feet.   And the feeling that if I turn my back for one moment something terrible might befall my child.  So the dream is a dream of a woman who feels she must remain ever vigilant.  A woman who can’t let go.   Who waits for the shoe to drop and the sky to fall. 

I know I must deal with this or I will become one of those merciless helicopter moms, hovering, not living.   Those dance shoes still fit, and there happens to be a very good funk band playing at The Chicken Box tonight…  


Monday, March 21, 2011

Mom Material: The Forty Factor

Mom Material: The Forty Factor: "Women who are over forty having their first child represent a growing demographic of women bearing children. Fewer women are having ba..."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Forty Factor

Women who are over forty having their first child represent a growing demographic of women bearing children.  Fewer women are having babies in their twenties and thirties these days, and more women are having babies in their forties.   Despite the fact that we women over forty having first children represent the highest risk category (in fact, the American Medical Association puts any women thirty-five or older into that group), we are braving the odds and utilizing the advances in modern medicine to pursue the dream of raising families late in life.

I guess you could say that I am a righteous older mom.  I get a little proud and indignant whenever anyone suggests that I am in any way disadvantaged due to my age.   Yet at the same time I often question whether my maladies suggest that I am vulnerable to the age factor.  But it’s sort of like, I’m allowed to say something about it, but nobody else is, unless you too happen to be of my forty-something subset.  Sometimes I entertain such discussions on Facebook, and am usually enormously gratified when younger moms write posts to let me know that they too have had issues with their hips, or with fatigue, thus putting the age myth fully to rest.

Then usually some older mom decides to chime in and kill my younger-feeling mom buzz.   She says being an over-forty mom of toddlers is exhausting and that she has only had two nights of sleep in three and a half years.  Now, since she did just turn forty, she’s entitled to her point of view, and I can’t take that away from her.  I’ll just sort of sit back in the sidelines and wait for some young mom to blow that notion out of the water with a story of more extreme fatigue in her twenties or thirties.  (One thing I am learning is that no mom likes to be outdone in her level of exhaustion!)  I can reign victorious again in my need to believe that I am perfectly well equipped for this job.  Despite a missing molar, despite hyperparathyroidism, despite sun-spotted skin, and hair that goes gray if I don’t color it, despite laugh lines and frown furrows, I can still keep up with my one year old on the “shtair” and the “shlide”, wiggle through the tunnel, and nurse throughout the night.  If I was on an episode of Mom Survivor, I wouldn’t be likely to get voted off.  I’m that good.

Nearing forty-five now, I can still put a hundred percent into motherhood.  I can’t do it, however, if I don’t also take care of myself.  A younger mother might be able to subsist on a diet of candy bars and diet cokes.  I, however, require foods that are rich in calcium and iron.  I require a daily Rainbow Light prenatal vitamin, calcium, and Omega 3’s.  I require a vigorous walk with my son in his stroller at least three or four days a week, when weather’s permitting.  While one disadvantage for older mothers is the necessity to work harder at self-care, the fact that older mothers tend to be better at taking care of themselves works in their favor.      

But I’m not going to lie.  I worry about my mortality.  When I see younger mothers I see just that—younger and more beautiful and yes, sometimes more energetic mothers.    I am continually becoming aware of my age.  Other mothers think about having a second and even a third or more children without blinking an eye.  I have to wonder whether I would be so lucky the second time around, in terms of having a healthy child.  I remind myself that I got pregnant easily, and handled the pregnancy well, without complications or need of bed rest.  I have been successful at breastfeeding and have fully enjoyed raising my little boy into a toddler…But I’m conditioned to think of myself as old.  I imagine that in the minds of other people my having a second child would be—well, pushing it.    

And yet, when I look at how well my first child is turning out, how healthy and happy and engaged with the world he is, I wonder why I don’t feel more confidence in my ability to have a second child.  In part it might be due to K and the fact that he insists another child wouldn’t be economically feasible.  And there’s truth in that.  But as we know, economics don’t deter most people, or most people in the world would not have children.  So it has to be something else… a nagging deep down fear of failure, a fear that we wouldn’t be able to take care of ourselves and our children.  That this baby soft-faced child of ours who adores us so will one day realize that we're growing old.

*   *   *   *

Being an older mom means having to scrub hair dye off the bath turtles.  It means being mistaken for grandma by inner city TSA workers in airport security lines.  It means viewing portraits of creamy skinned younger moms and their babies with a wistful sense of envy.  It means running out of time to have a second one.  It means watching my son’s first white teeth come in while I work to keep from losing mine.  It means being susceptible to older person’s illnesses like hyperparathyroidism and diverticulitis.  The older you get, the more syllables are in the names of your illnesses.  It’s an unfortunate phenomenon. 

But being an older mom also means being a mom with wisdom.  It means being a mom who came very close to not getting the chance to become a mother at all.  It means being a mom with a deep sense of gratitude.  It means being a mom with perspective, who isn't upset by spilled milk.  It means being a mom not easily embarrassed and perfectly willing to act goofy for the sake of entertaining my little one.  It means being a mom who’s willing to keep on nursing him.  It means being a mom who sang to my son from the moment we first came home, between our first bonding moments nursing on the sofa, and then as we strolled up and down the bike paths, and whose son now at the age of one sings “LA! LA! LA!” at the top of his lungs.   It means not really giving a crap how I look or weather I’ve lost all my pregnancy fat or even whether I’ll ever get to go out ever again in my life.  It means being willing to give up everything for my child, and yet feel as if I’m receiving the greatest and richest gift under the sun.   Being an older mom is not for everyone.  But despite the fact that I’m growing older, I am feeling younger all the time.  And even though I’m an older mom, my little son wouldn’t want any other one.