A globe-trotting mom writes to her children on Mother’s Day.
To this day, I see childbirth as the single most important experience I have had, teaching me so much about an inner strength that I didn’t know I had. After bringing a child into the world, I felt anything was possible.
Even as a child, becoming a mother was my first cognizant desire. Playing house, I was usually the mama, only occasionally interested in being the baby. I cooked and kept my playhouse in order. Mud pies from the sandbox were the specialty of the house.
When I grew older and became interested in boys, my heightened feelings of “love” never came close to the romantic ideas I had about having babies. I had crushes, fell in and out of love with broken hearts on both sides, yet nothing quite gave me a glow like the thought of children. One day, my friend Mark, older than I with two small children, invited
me to ride up to visit some mutual friends in the hills of Tennessee. I slipped into the role of mother, like pearls on a lady. That as the day that I realized I was made for the job.
It happens quite quickly, when you know. But how one can be sure at such a young age is speculative. I remember asking my mother, “How do you know if it’s true love? If he’s the right man?” “Sometimes you have to jump in with both feet,” she said.
So at 22, I jumped. He was older than me by nine years, cultured (worldly), educated (brilliant) and kind. And most importantly, responsible. Finding a good mate in the late 70s was no easy feat. Being a flower child, I’m sure my parents thought they would lose me to a street musician or worse yet, to a cult. I surprised them. I cared for him, and loved him as he loved me. Yet, I could hardly trust that I knew anything being so young. What I did know is that he would be a good father. Mission accomplished.
We bought our first house together, then married in it one year later. I had already become pregnant a few months before the wedding, much to my delight, but also to my worry. Luckily my father, a Southern gentleman and a great father himself, liked my betrothed and approved. Surprisingly, they had the same birthday.
Watching one’s belly grow is miraculous. Feeding oneself becomes a priority every step of the way. As someone interested in good food and cooking, I was in heaven. Macro-biotic at the time, I didn’t eat meat or dairy, so I had to be extra diligent about getting protein, calcium and daily good nutrition. Nevermind that it wasn’t easy to eat much in 100 degree weather that summer. I indulged in sweet fruits, leafy lettuces, occasional cottage cheese, sunshine and swimming.
A box of Pepperidge Farms’ Mint Milanos disappeared on the evening that I went straight into labor. The time had come. Jeff and I had studied the Bradley Method of natural childbirth, based on deep breathing. I wanted to birth at home, but acquiesced to the birthing room at the local hospital. My in-laws were less tolerant than my own family and both my sister- in-law and brother-in-law were pediatricians. It was a fine compromise, and I’m sure Jeff was relieved. His family was less sure of me than mine was of him.
The labor was long and, to this day, is the hardest thing I have ever done. Birth hurts. The veil between the human world and the animal world becomes soft, as you moan with every contraction to ride the wave of pain. It scares you as it gets more intense. Your legs are spread eagle and you don’t care, you want to rip off your gown, every muscle in your body is calling for your attention. You do not want to be distracted by voices or sounds that might bother you, being acutely aware of the task at hand. This is not the time to be nice. The moment is poignant. That precious belly, so much a part of you, that you have so loved and nurtured, bathed and anointed, fed and rested, is coming out. Soon to be separate of you, yet still dependant. Everything will change. Your mind is trying to grasp all of the emotions at once.
Girl to woman. Woman to mother. Instant growing up. Immediate loss of innocence. No more playing house, this being the real deal and it hurts. It’s beyond excruciating and beyond your control. You are possessed with an energy that you don’t recognize, a power that didn’t know you had. You breathe and breathe, as long and as slow as you can, so grateful that your breath is your friend, and scream once in a while, low tones, forcing that energy down into your pelvis. You wait, barely able to catch your breath before it comes again and… again… in my case, three hours the pushing, with seemingly no progress. No resting in this painful place, not out, not in. The pure surrender it takes to relax is like trying to find the eye of a hurricane. Then with one big breath and a concentrated push! The baby slides out. Reality slips back in. A small being is placed on your chest, all slippery and wet, eyes wide and awake. With no drugs to dull either of us, we cried together, both shaking, a new mother and child.
Emily Sarah Markel. 5. 1/2 oz. 21 inches. 23 hours of labor. To this day, I see childbirth as the single most important experience I have had, teaching me so much about an inner strength that I didn’t know I had. After bringing a child into the world, I felt anything was possible.
Emily was a sweet and delicate daddy’s girl. She fit into his palm when she was born, legs dangling off onto his arm. Those first few years were an idealistic time of staying at home, cooking three meals each day, taking walks with the pram. I was introduced to the Waldorf School which became a natural segue into the imagination of childhood. We were immersed into a world of wonder.
Then, when Emily was three, my mother came to visit us for a few weeks. Emily came into one my room one morning, “Mama…Grandma won’t wake up.” She died of a heart attack in her sleep at 61.
It was a first-degree shock. Running to the room of my mother, I found her in the bed, sitting up, light on, with a book in her hand and glasses on her face. Her eyes were open. I shook her, and she was stiff. I screamed. In 30-seconds I understood that my mother, the body from which I came was no longer at home. Looking back, I understand that she taught me an invaluable lesson in that moment: that we more than our bodies. I was 26.
A few months later, I conceived. This time, it would be a winter baby. I accompanied Jeff on a trip to the British Isles, visiting England, Scotland and Ireland. I kissed the blarney stone, ate soda bread and drank Guiness, the liquid bread. It was stormy, giving sheets of rain, moody and reflective. This time I wanted a home birth.
I developed an upper respiratory flu towards the end of my pregnancy. One night, after weeks of exhausting false labor pains, I said to the baby, “If you’re going to come, you’d better come now.” The head moved down in that moment and real labor started. It was midnight.
Graham Calder Markel was born at 8:30 the next morning, looking like a wise old man, a long lost friend. Becoming a mother twice has been the most incredible experience of all. Though I have gone on to create my own business, immersing myself in cultures around the world, I sit here on Mother’s Day, 2010, thinking of my children, now grown. Emily, now 29,
with her own two children, making me now a grandmother. Graham, 26, a writer with the gift of gab. Both kind, witty, talented, loving souls. We are close. They are my heart.
And though I am no longer with their father, I know still that he was the perfect choice. Bringing children into the world is a big responsibility, not a burden. I consider myself an unconventional mother, having broken a few norms to save my children from narrow and predictable lives, preferring to offer a different view. These words by poet David Whyte inspire me, as a person, and as a mother on a continual journey of my own:
Take all the elements that you find in your life and make something of it. No existential disappointment here. No gospel of despair. Be yourself! You are a sacred frontier of experience that has never appeared before in the whole of time and will never appear again.
There is no one else who can occupy your corner of creation and taste and see the flavor of things the way you do. The act of participating and appreciating the world in the way that you do, is an act of incarnation. All the strategic works you do will come out of that frontier. But without it, everything becomes a second willful act merely of self necessity.
Get back to the core that is occurring underneath it all, the invisible foundation that you will build your life on. A radical simplification on what brings flavor to your life, a fearless harvest of what makes you, you.
With love to my children,
p.s. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.