Monday, May 9, 2011

Gifts from the Daughter

The day my period started was the first time I attempted suicide. It was a sign that god had absolutely, irrevocably, turned his back on me and that I would be stuck being female the rest of my life. (I was raised deeply religious and actually believed that god cared and listened to intense prayer.) Even one more hour living as a female seemed too long, so I went to the garage and slung a rope over the rafter.

Needless to say, that didn't work. Either did my other attempts. When a cousin successfully committed suicide several years later, I realized that I had to make some hard choices or eventually I would end up like him. While I was ambivalent about living, my family's calloused reaction to his death for some reason made me want to live marginally more than I wanted to die. Marginally, but enough to matter. Since then, I've been in an uneasy truce with my body.

The only time I was ever completely comfortable in my skin, oddly enough, was when I was pregnant. I'd never been interested in the trappings of female life I saw around me - makeup, clothes, weddings, cheer leading, babies, marriage, etc. - but being pregnant made me feel a bit normal, as if I'd somehow found a way to sneak into the side entrance to the temple of femininity, and once inside, I'd get a good enough grasp on their rituals to perform like a native. Not so. When I went to Lamaze classes and they asked people how they were feeling or what they were thinking, I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut. You know what happens when you try to force the similar polar ends of two magnets together? Yeah. It was like that. A zone around me that the other women wouldn't enter. They were already plotting play dates for their children and bonding. I was the presence hovering in the corner who had no clue how she was decorating the nursery or why that was even necessary. After those horrible classes though, I'd go home and stroke my growing belly and be massively, sweetly, totally content for the first time in my life.

Over two weeks past the due date there were still no signs that I was ever going into labor, so the hospital induced it. After twelve hours of hard, fruitless labor, my daughter was in such distress that they did an emergency cesarean. Her scores were so low when she was born that we really didn't think she'd make it. You know things are bad when the person cut open on the operating table has one third the number of doctors and nurses hovering over her than the baby does. Three days later though, she was well enough to leave the hospital. At the Lamaze reunion (why did I go?) to show off our babies, the teacher and other mothers made it clear that both being induced and resorting to a cesarean were huge, unforgivable failures on my part. The temple doors slammed shut.

By that point, I was fine being on the outside, because I had plenty of company between R and then M, and later C. Many women get postpartum depression, and with a history of clinical depression on both sides of my family I was a great candidate for it, but the calm that had come over me during the pregnancy continued. Sleepless nights with a crying baby were nerve wracking, but overall, I had sort of a sanguine reaction to the whole thing. After near death, a few hours of crying were hardly the end of the world. M was wonderful and thriving and I enjoyed being her mother. The best part was that the calm acceptance pregnancy brought to me trickled over into the rest of my life. I'd always wanted to write, but my parents forbade it, so I didn't. But now I was an adult with a child and a job, so why couldn't I make decisions about my own life now? Wasn't I technically a grown up? So I started writing. As frustrating as writing can be, overall it leaves me with a sense of contentment that I've learned to treasure. What a gift. My daughter gave that to me.


  1. What a story, Kathleen!

    Sometimes it takes a really extreme experience like this to open one's eyes to the possibilities in life.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. Much of the time, I feel a similar outsider-ness with regard to femininity.

    Motherhood, however, is indeed magical in its ability to focus our priorities. :)

    ~ Imp

  3. Powerful story, and a brave one to share. Thanks.

  4. Wow, Kathleen—thank you for sharing this.

  5. Thank you, everyone, for the support.

  6. Kathleen, I'm starting to feel like we've lived parallel lives in some regards... I ended up with a failed induction and C-section (thankfully the baby was fine, I was the one who wasn't doing well after 12 hours of Pitocin and dilating only 1 centimeter). I never "got" a lot of the girl stuff, though I suppose I put my own spin on the ones I took on.

    "The best part was that the calm acceptance pregnancy brought to me trickled over into the rest of my life." Yes, yes, yes! I had an epiphany about 4 months after my son's birth, after I'd been taking care of him pretty much alone while my husband was deployed. A friend sent me the book Momma Zen (Karen Maezen Miller) and I just connected with her message so much. I didn't have that calm acceptance during pregnancy, but it came... and I'm grateful for it. It makes this pregnancy a little easier.

    Thanks for sharing your story. You're amazing!

  7. Kristina - R had to go on a fifteen day business trip less than a week after the second child was born. Second child never slept for more than fifteen minutes at a time until she was two. So I was a zombie. But at least I only had to tough out three weeks. My hats off to you for surviving a much longer stretch.

    Oh, and Pitocin is the devil's spit.

  8. Kathleen, this is a great story about the compatibility of motherhood and a writing life. So often we are told we have to choose.

  9. Jean -I wish that following your daughter's birth you'd had some peace too.

    I'm of the mind that when mom is happy, the kids will be happier. And the sooner children learn that mom is a human being with her own dreams and needs, the sooner they stop banging on the bathroom door. At least, that's my theory. As soon as M and C grew out of it, the cats started in on the bathroom door. Cats, alas, never grow up.

  10. This part about life, I envy women. What must it be like to have a friendly other growing inside of you, carryng its prescence with you like an invisible friend everywhere you go?


  11. Hey Garce, it all depends. If it is a "mistake" or birth-control failure, then you feel like you have a parasite sucking the life out of you.

    But if the child is wanted, you enjoy every kick, every movement, though not so much the heartburn and the squashing of all of your organs. (I had 4 10-11# babies by c-section, all within 5 years.)

    That is why I insist on a woman's right to choose her own destiny, since only she knows how she feels.