confused considerate with
convenient for you
I must stop making myself
more palatable for those who would not
consume me either way
lukewarm is safe but wholehearted is
the only way I can breathe; if it boils me alive then so be it
After reading a book and singing a few favorite songs and lovingly scratching her back, I gave her a kiss and walked out of her room. Ah, naptime. Time to sit and relax for a bit before tidying up the house. I sat down on my bed, sipping water and scrolling through Facebook, checking the notifications from my Gentle Humor Parenting Story of the day. Earlier in the morning Rosalyn had gotten ahold of the french press and dumped out the used, wet coffee grounds. Oh, toddlers.
It wasn’t long before she called out to me through the monitor. Unicorn needed a diaper before they could take a nap. Of course, how could I have forgotten? No matter, I’m a pro. I diapered the stuffed animal and soothed her back to a heavy lidded state before quietly padding across the carpet. Once on the other side of the door I chuckled and shook my head. Oh, toddlers. What a cute little scamp I have. Resume relaxation.
Somewhere, God laughed.
Approximately 4.5 minutes pass by and I’m about to consider turning on some Netflix because hey, the bathrooms can wait a little while longer, yeah? Especially after the action packed morning we had.
Softly, her voice comes through the monitor again. “Need help. Mommy? Need help.”
Aw, sweet angel. She needs a little more love today and that’s fine by me. Motherhood is a blessing!
I click on the camera to check where she is in her room. Sometimes she lays by her door and I’d hate to open it on her precious cherub face. That’s when I see it: a large dark mass sitting in the middle of her bed. Strange, the only stuffy she had with her was a white unicorn. Both her teddy bear and hedgehog are in her playroom, waiting patiently for a magical playtime session.
Once again, her small voice pleads over the monitor. “Mommy help. Poop.”
I leap up and span the distance across my room and down the hallway in four steps and fewer seconds. I slam the door open with little regard for the precious cherub face that was, thankfully, not in it’s path. (Email me for the address you can send my Mother of the Year trophy to.) Rosalyn stands in the middle of the room, her shit covered arms extended out to me. There is a package of wipes to my left. I grab it and begin to extract them in quick succession, throwing them forcefully towards the daughter-shaped feces monster before me. “Why?!” I ask her, deliriously expecting a response. “Why did you do this?!” If she had a much more advanced capacity for communication I imagine she would’ve said something like, “I don’t need a fucking reason, lady – I’m two years old. Try not being so stingy with the cookies next time, huh?” With her limited fine motor skills she tries and fails to make any sort of dent in the layers of excrement, dropping the wipes to the floor and reaching out to me again. “Wash hands? Rozzie wash hands?” She takes a step toward me and I’m unable to harness any sort of calm, gentle response.
“NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. YOU STAY RIGHT THERE. DO NOT MOVE. DO NOT TOUCH ME. NO. NO. NOOOOOOOOOOO.”
You’ve seen Chris Pratt taming the velociraptors in Jurassic World, right? That. Except covered in shit.
(Once again, I’m happy to accept any and all parenting award nominations. Call me.)
The next few minutes are a blur but when I come to Rosalyn is in the tub, fully clothed, water running. She gingerly sticks a few fingers into the stream and shouts victoriously, “All clean!” Omg no, child. Not even close. How have I failed you? I leave her to her rudimentary hygiene abilities, comforted momentarily by the containment properties of the tub. Once back in The Room I find myself dialing my mom for some sort of guidance because I’m on the quickly crumbling edge of a panic attack. I try mightily to give her childhood freedom from my OCD but my anxiety has a line and that line is poop. The phone rings and I inspect my surroundings for the first time, taking stock of the damage. It is smeared on the pillows, the bed rails, the sheets. The carpet, the window sill, the door. Bless her heart it is smeared on drawer handles as she undoubtedly searched for something with which to reverse her horrifying mistake. I’m now able to piece together the poop clues and discover what transpired in absolute silence during those 4.5 minutes. It wasn’t the diaper she had been wearing but one she had somehow retrieved and unwrapped from the garbage can. I imagine the first minute was play-based and then quickly derailed into a mission to wipe her hands clean on various surfaces. Naively, we never got a proper diaper trash can for her room as 90% of her diapers are cloth. Most poop is flushed into the pipes and away from me like God intended, not wrapped up neatly like a potential E. Coli hot pocket. Idiots.
Mom talks me down from the ledge and I then call my husband who is sitting at a grown up desk, talking to grown up people, and not covered in shit at all. Fuck him. While giving him a detailed tour of the horror in front of me because I desperately need someone else to suffer, Rosalyn cries out from her bathtub prison. “Raining! It’s raining, Mommy!” Um, what? I enter the bathroom to find she has discovered how to turn the shower on and is dancing in confused wonder. She has pulled her towel into the tub and proudly explains, “Towel bath.” Water is everywhere. But at least it’s not shit.
She is bathed and napping in my bed. Her room is disinfected. The carpet is pretreated, waiting to be shampooed. The sheets, pillows, and clothes are in the wash. I need a shower, I can feel poop smeared in the wrinkles of my brain. I’m hungry and need to pee but dare not to leave the bed in case it wakes her up.
Motherhood is a blessing. A shitty blessing.
I pull the curtain shut. It is heavy and thick and promises to block out the noonday sun; it does an ok job. After we read a book about bunnies (because it’s almost Easter and I try to do cute things sometimes) and before I can pull the brightly colored quilt over her chest, my lemon drop 2 year old looks to me. “Back? Scratch Rozzie back?” Given our history, there isn’t a single atom of me that would say no.
She has been uncharacteristically glued to my side today. She is fiercely, stubbornly, dangerously independent. She spent her infancy screaming in my arms, fighting against unconsciousness with all her tiny might – the only survival instinct she came equipped with. She knew before I did change is just another word for destruction.
“Of course!” She parrots back and curls up on her pillow. As my fingertips graze her spine, she relaxes. True to form however, she forces her eyes to stay open for an impressive length of time. True to MY form, I feel relieved and victorious when she finally gives in and allows her eyelids to slowly, ever so slowly close.
I stay awhile longer, watching my hand rise and fall with her lungs. What a gift she has given me. Unknowingly.
As a self righteous teen I once held the opinion that this was the work of boring women, women who didn’t have much to offer the world.
Well, I am not terribly interesting but what I have to offer is this girl and the woman inside her cells. She rattles cages, hers and yours. I’ve come to learn that scratching sleepy backs is great work. It is holy work. Ripples that turn into waves.
Dear daughter, the world cannot and will not love you like I do. It is simply not possible. You see, your veins are continuations of mine. When I was growing in my mother’s womb I held you already inside of my own, matryoshka nesting dolls of women.
Dear daughter, you are golden like honey and also flame. People will try to consume you then pull away, scorched. Do not let them douse you to ashes. Do not let them have your sweetness and not your heat.
Dear daughter, you are not broken. At least, not any more so than the rest of us. You are not to be fixed. You are to be taken whole and loved entirely.
Dear daughter, I have patience enough for you and when my stores run low I will dig deep and find more. You are worthy of time and understanding and effort.
Dear daughter, know your flaws but neither justify nor apologize for them.
Dear daughter, listen to the voice in your belly when it prods you to speak louder. Understand that passion can scare people who are not ready for it. Get loud anyway.
Dear daughter, there is peace and goodness in silence, too. Understand that reserve can scare people who are not ready for it. Be still anyway.
Dear daughter, do not subscribe to the mistakes of the world. Intelligence is far superior to beauty. Pretty is not your purpose.
Dear daughter, do not subscribe to the mistakes of your mother. Kindness matters far more than intelligence. Superior is not your purpose.
Dear daughter, know that God is love and love is God’s work and above all, above all, above ALL it is what we are called to do. Your self, your family and friends, the man who cut you off in traffic, and the people you cut out for your own peace and health. Let love humble and restore you with the rise and set of the sun.
Dear daughter, balance is a facade. Behind its serene mask a toxic perfectionism is haunting. Let yourself bounce freely and at times wildly from one state to another. Label your days good or bad but never yourself. Allow yourself to be human – hung intentionally between animal and divine.
Dear daughter, remember wherever or however you wander there is a place for you by my side or in my arms. Come what may, I have always been and will always be a home.
It happens when I catch sight of her name – artwork others have made in her honor, or a necklace with her birthstone, or the church bulletin clipping held to the fridge with an alphabet magnet. Or when Rosalyn whispers in awe, “Oh, a baby!” as she marvels at a stranger’s infant. Or when someone says something stupid and insensitive and never seems to realize the damage they’ve done. The world spins and I grip the grocery cart in front of me, trying not to be whipped into a sharp pile of jagged thoughts and spaces in time. I will smile for them but never have the corners of my mouth felt so heavy.
I think about Rosalyn and the sisterhood stolen from her. It cuts me freshly every day.
I think about the number of times I’ll have to forgive the small but wounding transgression that is a pair of eyes darting quickly down to my empty belly and back up to me. As if they’re seeking visual confirmation. Yes, she is gone. Still. Why the fuck are you doing that to me?
I think about the NICU team. And how when it was time to deliver they stood dutifully by the premature bed and equipment, ready to receive a baby they knew they could do nothing to save. They knew and still they came. They couldn’t save her, but perhaps they could save me. Perhaps they could share even a droplet of my agony and grief. How many babies have they seen go from this earth? How many times a day do they feel helpless but gather their strength for the mothers? They knew Margaret Olivia Redmon would make their death toll creep higher. And still they came.
I think about nurse that greeted me in L&D and led me to my room. How she paused after learning I was only 22 weeks along. How I looked at her and said, “I know. It’s OK. Just tell me.” I felt I should comfort her. You’re not the first to break my heart – don’t worry, we can do this.
I think about how badly I wanted a VBAC, but not like this. I think about how much more intensely painful contractions are when there’s no amniotic fluid to cushion the blow. I think about how it took four incredibly skilled medical professionals and countless needles to find a vein for the morphine that did nothing. How I still had to go under anesthesia because I couldn’t deliver the placenta. How it all seemed like a sick cosmic joke and I actually laughed. There comes a point where there’s so much pain coming from too many directions and you just stop feeling.
I think about how she was perfectly fine in there. How her heart kept beating until my body forced her out.
I think about how much time has passed since I last thought about her. It’s getting longer. I think about if that’s good or bad. I think about how people must be getting tired of me. It’s been years after all. No, wait – it’s been a little over two months. Fuck.
I have tried to compartmentalize, tried to keep the wreckage pushed into the corner. Somewhere I can visit when I want to. But somehow I keep stumbling and bruising myself on pieces that have drifted out in the open. I put another band-aid on and drag it back to where it belongs. Lift with your knees, not your back. Before I can return I have to rest, seated amongst the rubble. If I dig deep enough I can still find embers.
There’s nothing else I can do. So I sit and I think.
I made ornaments. For us and for each pair of grandparents. They each contain blanket scraps, a hospital bracelet, and a set of hand and foot prints. They’re beautiful. I loved creating them. It felt so nice to make something for her, to do something for her. My veins frosted over when I realized – it felt like mothering.
Just as I agonized and enjoyed creating a nursery for Rosalyn, I painstakingly selected and placed each flower and leaf for Margaret. Just as I carefully swaddled Rosalyn each night, I delicately tucked Margaret’s footprints into the pieces of her first, last, only baby blanket. I run my fingers through Rosalyn’s dark blonde curls and kiss her pink cheeks; for Margaret I sprinkle iridescent glitter to sparkle in the string of Christmas lights and thread rich red velvet tied in a knot.I cannot clothe or feed or diaper you. I cannot kiss your toes to make you laugh. I cannot spend obscene hours rocking and swaying and soothing red-faced squalls. I cannot wrap you in my arms and tell you how much you matter to your very core. I cannot wipe your snot with my shirt because who gives a fuck about shirts when my entire universe is standing in front of me with a runny nose.
I cannot do those things, so I guess I do this. It is nothing and it is all I have for you, of you. I have nothing.
I had often wondered how women were able to labor and birth with the knowledge their baby had died or would soon die after leaving them. How did they walk through that intensity and pain when at the finish line there are only somber faces and gentle hands – no confetti, no victory? How do you birth death? I now intimately understand that you do impossible things for your children. You give what you have and then dig deep to find more. In that moment, your baby needs you. So you mother.
I would have dedicated my life to your full-bellied goodness. I would have studied and known you deeper than anyone. I would have nurtured your intricate complexities. I would have been your punching bag and whetstone.
I would have mothered you.
You were alive. You were here. You matter.