My mother and I have never really “gotten along.” We’re wildly different, me taking after my father – an overly affectionate and needy nerd and she pragmatic, yet hot blooded of Roman descent. My childhood wasn’t unhappy but I often felt misunderstood and always in need of a hug. Predictably my adolescence was spent fighting with the woman who birthed me. In fact we fought well into my young adulthood and one of our biggest fights happened when I was already a married woman.
It was your classic litany of accusations from me that could be summed up as “you did it all wrong.” Several therapists made me feel justified in the victimization of myself and I walked around with a big chip on my shoulder. In the heat of the moment we would often say to each other “just wait until you have a kid” and “just wait until I have a kid.” We couldn’t wait to prove ourselves right with a child that didn’t even exist yet.
And then one cold December night I did have a kid. A girl.
During my pregnancy, my husband and I decided to wait to find out what we were having and yet in the back of my mind, late at night, I would barter with God and tell him that I needed a girl. I needed a girl to give her everything I thought was missing from my childhood and I needed a girl to finally have that best friend I had been dreaming of having my whole life. How funny we can be sometimes, thinking we know what’s best. God gave me a girl but what I really needed was to have a baby — to experience bringing another human into this world. And I like to think that he knew that, but granted me my wish anyway.
Because there I was, the morning after, alone with this tiny bundle that could scream so loud from hunger she would turn purple, but slept so peacefully that I would crane my ear over her crib every five minutes to make sure she was breathing. It finally all made sense. As I lay in that motorized hospital bed saturating another pad with blood, unable to move from the most traumatizing and painful delivery, tears began to run down my cheeks as I watched the snow slowly pile up in the corners of the window of our room.
I cried because I was sorry. I was sorry for all the accusations, the fights, the yelling, the finger pointing and the “you should have’s.” I was sorry because I wish I would have known that even if this woman didn’t always get it right, she gave me everything in those first few moments of my life – the rest was just a bonus. As I soaked the top of the hospital gown with tears, my mind began to walk in my mama’s shoes that hot July afternoon 26 years ago. I could see her – her swollen ankles and tired face, her hand resting on her lower back. I could feel the fear pumping through her veins and the loneliness that echoed through her mind. I saw that sterile hospital room she told me of so many times, the steel “bed” on which she would lie and deliver me silently for fear of being berated by the nursing staff. I could hear the clanging of the aluminum bowls full of cold water that they used to wash her and I could feel the pressing isolation that she must have felt when she was led to her white-washed room with a cot and no baby (in Soviet Russia, newborns are kept in a nursery and only have contact with the mother when it’s time to nurse). And I kept crying because that frail 22-year-old girl did this all for me.
I felt connected with her in a way that I never had before. Although I hadn’t lived one full day with my child, I could already feel and see that she had altered me permanently. In the months to come as “mommy brain” set in, it became apparent that there wasn’t a part of me that my little girl didn’t alter. My tailbone was broken, the weight wasn’t “coming off” as quickly as I would have liked and at around three months post-partum my hair began to fall out in clumps. I felt like a shell of myself, unrecognizable. Breastfeeding came hard and was eventually something I had to give up altogether. My days consisted of around-the-clock feeding, changing, rocking, shushing, bathing and cleaning. And even though it sucked the life out of me, I poured my heart and soul into it. And every time I rocked my daughter back to sleep or fed her, my heart broke a little bit as I imagined the way my mother did all this for me, because rose colored glasses aside, those first six months are tough and thankless.
I’m sure there are a lot of things I’m doing wrong when it comes to raising my hazel-eyed little girl and I’m sure there are many mistakes I have yet to make but like my mother often told me in a pleading voice “I’m doing my best. My very, very best.” Because we are human, because we get tired and snap and because we live in an imperfect world, our babies will grow up feeling like we were too controlling, too lax, not affectionate enough, too clingy, too absent, too strict, not strict enough, annoying, boring, obsessive and pretty much any other negative thing you can think of. But I hope through all of that they see all of the love, the sacrifice and the care. Perhaps I didn’t get as many hugs as I needed or the mother-daughter dates I so craved but this woman gave her body to bring me into this world. She packed my lunch every single day from first grade until high school and was there to help me with my homework every night. And when I would yell in frustration “do you care about me??!!” she had the strength and the grace to never say “do you care about me? About the fact that I yearn to learn, to grow, to work to remember who I am? To find myself? To do anything for myself?”
Her life revolved around my brother and I for practically my whole life and yet I was too busy to see it. Because as a kid you don’t appreciate the person who cooks your food, puts your clothes away every week, bathes you and spoon feeds you, stays on top of your doctor appointments and takes you school shopping. As a kid you don’t notice who refills the sugar dish and buys toilet paper for the millionth time. You don’t notice the meal planning, the washing, the dusting, the worrying, the cleaning, the making sure that you have gloves, a scarf and hat when you go outside. You think it all just happens but it’s actually being done, often quietly, by someone who loves you with a love so fierce and strong it would break your heart.
To this day my mother doesn’t paint her toenails and we’ve never really gone on a “date.” She doesn’t read the same things I do and there are a lot of things we still don’t understand about each other but we’re trying to learn. I call more frequently now and she tries harder to listen. But more than anything I’m making sure to let her know just how grateful I am for every year, every month, every hour and minute that she spent giving of herself to me. Because I know now what I didn’t then and I’m going to spend the rest of my life making it up to her.
Guest post written by Tatiana Gurubatham. Tatiana is a mother, daughter and wife living in Atlanta, GA with her little tribe. She spends her days tending to Birdie - her headstrong two-year-old and Teddy - the chillest six month old baby you ever did meet! She loves m&m's (often ingested in the privacy of a locked bathroom), Joni MItchell, anything by Didion, and her portly pug Belle. She blogs about this on her blog Flora & Fauna.
Photo by Kirsten Huculiak.
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