What I didn’t know was that the pain wouldn’t stop.
Naively I’d imagined that the moment my progeny burst forth from my anguished body I’d heave a sigh of relief, beam proudly for the camera to record the historic moment and then spring off the delivery bed to begin my successful career of mothering.
At that moment, barely hours after birth, merely sitting up presented a major challenge. And so I lay on my side on the narrow hospital bed, newly delivered, all swollen and shredded and feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. When would the bleeding stop? When would the pain end?
I knew that birth would be an ordeal, feared but expected the pain, knew that what was in me must come out, and it would hurt. It did. How is it possible that women have willingly sought a second child, a second agony? I marvelled at the existence of two children families, three children families, four, five, six children families, and vowed: Never again!
My tiny son slept in the plastic crib beside my bed, innocent to the damage his arrival had caused, trusting he was loved and welcomed. His little chest rose and fell rhythmically, perfectly performing this newly found function with gentle ease. Such a vital fragility. I gazed at the small being, surprised at the strength of my feelings. The alien inhabitor, destroyer of my flesh, had suddenly been transformed into my reason for being.
I needed to pee.
Not an easy process for the newly delivered. There was no nurse available to take over my watch and the other mothers who shared my ward slept fitfully, oblivious to my crisis and unable to supply my need. Such a precious trust could not be left alone. What if he should wake and find himself abandoned? A plastic prison was no substitute for a mother’s heartbeat, the warm wash of her blood. Who would be there to reassure him? I could never risk him to such a fate.
And so, I waited.
Dimly I became aware of the young man by the end of my bed. Dressed in simple jeans and a T-shirt, he was tall and lankly slim, the picture of youthful health. He had short blond curly hair and perfect skin; appearing every inch a refugee from a popular youth-oriented soap opera.
“I’ll watch him for you,” he smiled, seemingly reading my thoughts.
Relief flooded in.
I heaved myself awkwardly from the bed and gratefully hobbled off to the bathroom. The polished hall was eerily empty, though I could hear muffled conversation from the nurse’s station and muted newborn squalls from the nursery. Life was near. The bathroom itself was deserted; the air thick with that strange ‘new baby’ smell. I shuffled into a stall.
It wasn’t until I was safely ensconced that the incongruity of a young surfer in a maternity ward at 2.00am sunk in. Thoughts construct themselves slowly in postnatal brains. Who was that man with my child? Panic stabbed through my stomach to my throat, but then I heard it. Not an audible voice, though clear just the same.
“Don’t worry, that’s your son’s angel.”
“Of course; that makes sense,” thought I with astonishing hormonal insight.
Peace flowed over my body like thickened oil, insulating me from the assaults of fear that had attacked me from the moment I first discovered that I carried another life within me. I wasn’t alone. I didn’t have to do this alone.
I wasn’t surprised to find the young man gone when I returned. Somehow I knew he would be, but there was no betrayal. My son had not been deserted. Sleeping safely in his crib, clutching contentedly at the cotton blanket that enshrouded him, he seemed blissfully comfortable with his eternal protection. His guardian angel was not really gone, and I knew that he never would be.
I climbed back into bed, rearranged the ice packs and settled in for the night. My first night as a mother. I had been initiated through my blood into that mystical sisterhood and nothing would ever be as it was before.
My breasts throbbed and tingled in testament of their new status as life providers and my young son stirred as if summoned. What higher purpose was there than this? What greater fulfilment? I realized then that my heart would always beat for him, bleed for him, joy in him. The invisible umbilical cord that bound us together could never be cut but:
….nobody told me that the pain would never stop.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem