The first time I found out I was going to be a mother, I was in the parking lot outside Blockbuster. Rather anti-climactic, I know. I had just finished returning some movies and as I bent to get into my car, a feeling came over me. I remember it as the sort of feeling one has when meeting a soulmate. That knowing that defies description, at once familiarity and strangeness… wonder at the way the universe conspired to bring you together with another soul who somehow instantly feels as though they are a part of you. There is a connection, like a fine golden thread stretching across the infinite space between two hearts and minds. Once intertwined, the connection defies being broken and is stronger than the individuals alone that spun it. It becomes hard to remember with clarity who you were before you came together and they miraculously merged with you, making you somehow a more vivid version of them and them a more actualized version of you. You become more yourself just being with them. They exist to help you realize your life’s purpose.
It may seem like a strange comparison, but the image that comes to mind when I try to visualize that moment is that beam of protective light in sci-fi movies, descending from the heavens covering some small human subject, illuminating everything, even tips of fingers, toes. In an instant, I was different. Everything was different. I looked up at the night sky full of stars–and I just knew.
Months passed, life went on, though “I” was no longer, but “we” instead. We went to work every day, as usual. At that time, I worked in the counseling department at a high school as a secretary and manager of the College and Career Guidance Center. I watched my body change in the mirror, daily, wishing my baby bump was bigger, rushing to buy maternity clothes well in advance because I just couldn’t wait to fill them out. Other young women my age were building careers and enjoying the single life. I was busy doing my best to create the perfect family to fill the hole in my heart, a constant reminder of who I lost. I was a college graduate. I was married and had been for several years. This baby was eagerly anticipated, wanted, expected.
I was twenty-three years old.
“Don’t be in such a hurry to grown up,” my mother always told me.
“Don’t get old,” my grandfather always said. The ultimate double irony, given the fact he’s almost one-hundred years old, and if I don’t get old, what’s the alternative?
….yet I was always in such a rush to grow up.
Speaking in full sentences before I was 1
Given the option to enter fifth grade at the age of 8 (I chose not to)
Abandoning middle school in 8th grade instead of 9th (I transferred so I could go to high school sooner)
Leaving home at 17 to move to Brazil
My life has been a series of events illustrating impatience befitting of an Aries–the leader of the zodiac. I am Aries through and through. I’ve learned not to apologize, but to accept that fact.
It turns out, my baby also had more than a little of my tenacity.
At 17 weeks pregnant, I was well into my second trimester. For those of you without direct experience, my baby was around the size of a pomegranate. My little pomegranate and I had been getting along just fine. I am one of the lucky ones who doesn’t experience “morning sickness”. Given the fact that up until then, I had had a perfectly normal and healthy pregnancy, I had no reason to suspect that there would be complications. So we took our prenatal vitamins and kept on keeping on.
But, I have a condition. My mother calls it “hyper-independence,” a side-effect of which is an unwillingness to ask for help.
On this day, with this hyper-independence, I decided to climb the back steps to my house carrying a twenty-five pound bag of dog food on my own. For a moment, it did cross my mind to ask for help, but nobody was around, and I figured a small child weighed at least 25 pounds, and plenty of mothers carry toddlers while pregnant, so what could be the problem with me doing it? As soon as I put the bag down, I knew something was terribly wrong.
In an instant, everything felt…looser.
In my memory, it happened in slow motion.
Bright red blood pooling on the floor.
My fingers trembling dialing 9-1-1.
Paramedics placing me on a stretcher.
Lights flashing red–blue–red–blue
Paramedics imploring me to, “Calm down–for the baby”.
“Am I going to lose my baby?”
I felt a feeling that can best be described as an energetic touch, rather than a physical one. It was as though some unseen force pointed a finger right at the middle of my chest and from the point of contact, peace and tranquility, rich and warm as the blood in my veins coursed through my body. My heart knew, with an assuredness that my mind and body did not, that no matter the turn of events from that point on, all was going to be okay.
At the hospital, the nurses faces told me what their words would not. The situation looked grim. The good news–my baby was a girl. The bad–due to a rare and undetectable-until-then physical condition, she was being born prematurely and not expected to survive the night.
I was inconsolable. Her father and I held each other and wept in our shared grief and disbelief at how different things had seemed just twenty-four hours before.
The nurses came in to tell me that my baby, when she was born, wouldn’t be able to open her eyes, that she would try to breathe, but would be unable to and then she would “expire”. “Expiration”–such an odd word to use to describe the end of a human life. They asked me if I wanted to hold her as she breathed her last, or if I just wanted them to take her away, if I wanted a blanket for her, and whether we were prepared to make funeral arrangements. It. all. happened. so. fast.
That experience and conversation was one I will never forget. It was also one after which I had to be sedated. One could say that I was inconsolable before that conversation, my heart was completely decimated after. When one gets confronted with the imminent loss of a loved one, bargaining begins, and believe me, I made all sorts of promises. I prayed, begged, pleaded for a miracle, pledged to dedicate my life to the service of others without conditions…if only…
and then…those that work miracles started working their magic.
“There’s a doctor here who has been thinking of trying an experimental procedure. You’ll be his first patient and there are no guarantees. Do you want to try it?”
“At this point, I have nothing to lose. Give me the papers. I’ll sign.”
“You’ll have to wait eight hours with your feet up and head down so things can settle and gravity can work with us.”
“Whatever it takes.”
“I can put you under during the procedure, but if your body goes into labor, we’ll have to wake you up, and you’ll have to start pushing because you’re too far along do to anything else.”
“Put me out.”
“There is only a 3% chance that this procedure will work.”
“I will take that 3%.”
Another side-effect of my condition is stubbornness, also known as persistence. Sometimes it works in my favor. Apparently, that’s something my daughter and I have in common, because despite the odds…
my baby lived.
When she came out of me and into the world one day in January, fifteen years ago, the doctor told me to reach down and put my right index finger into her hand. She squeezed my finger (as babies’ reflexes train them to do) and it was a victory handshake, almost as if she was saying, “We did it, mama. We made it through.”
Because of this experience, because of her, I am forever changed. The atoms, molecules, and cells that make up my body, our body, the body that we once shared, are still here. I am still me, but this ending, this beginning is–to date–still the one that comes to the forefront of my mind as a truly defining moment.
I am convinced of the fact that…
Though I am impatient, because I am a mother, I am more patient, loving, forgiving, and compassionate.
Though I am hyper independent, because I am a mother, I have learned the importance of interdependence and appreciating how much more comes from joining with others to achieve a shared mission or goal.
And though I am stubborn, because I am a mother, I have become persistent and relentless in the pursuit of a more just and equitable education for children in this world–a few thousand of whom I have had the honor to teach–and who each, in their own distinct ways, mean the world to me.
So it is because of my daughter, really, that I am a teacher. She taught me what it means to love unconditionally, to dedicate all that I am and have to the betterment of others and betterment of myself for others.
I have never really been one to believe in miracles, but since this is traditionally the time for such, as much as it is the time for remembering purpose and setting intentions, I felt it appropriate to remember my miracle and to re-state my purpose.
It is being both teacher, and mother that have been the true miracles in my life. In these roles I have found my true purpose. I am thankful every day for the gift of having children in my life–both those that are mine, and those entrusted to my care. Whether they love me or not, the experience and honor of being their co-conspirator, their partner in exploration of this great big thing we call “Life,” has made me better, and for that I am eternally grateful. That I can say without exception, or condition.