Thursday, 20 November 2008

On Life and Death and Motherhood

I must warn you now this is going to be a big post. It's been brewing for a while. Because this cycle is my last, because I'm a pessimist, and because I seem to have so many free hours in the middle of the night, I have been thinking of motherhood. What will it mean for me if I don't become a mother? Am I not a mother yet simply because of genetics or is there a deeper reason? Does the universe think I wouldn't make a good mother? What makes a good mother anyway?

At 19, still a child myself, I took a job as House Mother, living in a house with 6 children aged between 9 months and 16 years. The parents were allowed a 2 hour visit per week but rarely made it that often. One of the them was a he.roin addict, she had a penis and the words "fuck off" tattooed on her foot. She would follow me around the house threatening me, then fall asleep head first in her dinner. I'd call a cab and she'd leave having spent about 0.5 seconds interacting with her baby.

When I worked in Child_Protection I was given the case of a couple trying to reunite with 10mth old twins who had been taken into care at 3 months because they were failing to thrive. The parents were in their mid 20s chronologically, but tested of equal intelligence to 7-8 year olds, emotionally they were around 13-15. Donna had a 6 yo son who lived with her mother, and, as well as the twins she and Paul had a two and a half year old. My job was to evaluate their ability to parent the three younger children. Each morning we would make up the formula for the day and with ticklists and charts and alarm clocks we spent the first few week or so just making sure the babies were being fed. I came back from a day off to find Donna beside herself "I can't do it. It's too hard". And so the twins were returned to Foster Care, then moved into Permanent Care.

Within a year Donna and Paul were back, they wanted my help with the now 3 year old. His tantrums were getting out of hand. His language was quite delayed, and Donna and Paul were having trouble understanding his verbal cues, so everyone was frustrated. I worked with them for close to 6 months. I stood up in court and stated that they could adequately meet this child's needs so he should remain in their care. A few months later Donna rang me to say "It's too hard". I held her hand while she signed another child over to Permanent Care. She was dry-eyed, I went home and bawled. He was a sweet boy, he went to live with a policeman and his wife in the country.

Within the year Donna and Paul had another son, the hospital staff were concerned, Donna told them I would help. They came to live at our facility. She breastfed this time which helped because she had her own, in-built, alarm system, and support available 24 hours. Trevor regained his birthweight and all appeared to be going well. He turned 1 month old on a public holiday, I had the day off. My colleague called an ambulance when she checked in to find Trevor floppy and unresponsive. At the hospital the next day, Donna and Paul were stunned by accusatory questions like "who threw the baby?" when I objected the questions were rephrased to "who dropped the baby?". A few hours later test results showed he had bacter.ial menin.gitis; there was nothing anyone could have done, or could do.

My boss took Paul home, he was pacing the halls, his head red and huge with bottled up emotion. Donna and I were shown into a tiny, windowless, airless room while Trevor was freed of his tubes and wires. Donna wouldn't touch him, so I held him and stroked his face as he grew heavier and heavier in my arms. Donna clung to me and we both cried. We talked about him and to him, reliving our short time together. A doctor would come every half hour with a stethoscope and shake his head slowly at me. Complete and utter torture. A minister joined us toward the end, she had gentle eyes with soft and powdery skin, but I can't recall a word she said. The doctor finally nodded sadly at me. We inked Trevor's footprints on a card, gave him a bath and changed his clothes. We said goodbye and they took Donna's fifth child away from her.

My office paid for a funeral and my boss and I paid for a plaque. I've been there a few times but not since ttc. Donna and Paul separated not long after and within a year both were expecting new babies with new partners. I heard that Donna was not allowed to take her baby home from the hospital. She'd be in her 40's now, I often wonder how many children she had, if she kept any of them, if she thinks of them as often as I do.

Four more children I knew died that year; 2 car accidents, a drowning, and a murder. I lost weight, I couldn't eat or sleep, I didn't menstruate for 6 months, I started getting migraines. I smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish. I broke down. It was too hard. An ex-boyfriend returned from interstate. I knew he was no good for me, I knew I didn't love him. But I threw myself into the comfort of his familiar embrace saying "of course I'll marry you". I fucked up my life completely. I was far too young and soft for that job.

My flatmate's boyfriend, going through his Soc.ialist phase, once told us that she and I were "pretentious middle class do-gooders under the delusion we were saving the world". And I suppose we were. I still believe we did some good work, but we made the wrong decision sometimes, and the kids that I failed will always haunt me.

I went back to Uni then got an office job. It took a while to adjust into the corporate world. I felt that my previous work was so important, while chatting about clothes with my young colleagues and making sales targets were just so not. I had held a woman's hand while she signed away her child, I had a baby die in my arms, I felt children wrap themselves so tightly around me they almost cut off my breath as I took them from their homes while burly police officers held back angry parents or tried to rouse drugged ones. I met mothers who sacrificed their children for the love of a man. I met children whose mothers did despicable things and/or allowed despicable things to be done to them. Plenty of women can get pregnant and give birth to babies, but that does not necessarily make them a mother. Some, like Donna, have the ability to be a mother but not the skills.

I must say that at the same time, I also met women who risked their lives, were stabbed or had their jaws smashed with a baseball bat, trying to protect their children. I'm more familiar with this kind of mother now.

It seems I have always played mother to other people's children. Next week (eeek!) I will find out if I will ever be a 'real' mother myself. I am oscillating between being grateful that at least I have had these experiences, to utter despair that these periods of 'playing mother' is the closest I will ever get.


Glenda said...

Hi...bugger! Sent you a long comment earlier but it hasn't gone through, may have been the excessive swearing! I'm also step-mum (to two, live with us full time since their mom screwed up). Was step mom in previous relationship also so get the pain of not havings one's own. No matter how much one knows, it always feels like you're being punished, like you did something in the past that somehow forfeited your right to have what you desperately want and what everybody else seems to have. Seems crazy, you read, you have cats, sense of humour, empathy, a conscience, decent hubby, job and yet the universe does what it does. Screw the universe, for whta its worth, seems to me like you deserve it, I would've liked someone like you to be my mom!!! I get that you don't get to breath out 'til 9 months when its in your arms, breathing...I get that I don't know and there's nothing that can be said to take away the crappy crappy stuff that plays out in your head...I just really, really hope it works out because you seem to deserve it (recognising that its not about deserving but it should be).
Glenda (also reader, animal lover(dogs though), infertile (on 6th IVF), step-mom, 37 and also in Melbourne)

Melbagirl said...

Haven't you had an interesting yet painful career?

I was having enough trouble sleeping lately worrying about my own situation ... now I'm never going to sleep!

Good luck to you. I sincerely hope this cycle works out for you.

Topcat said...

Holy SHIT. That post blew me away. Wow.

I want this to have worked so much for you. You already ARE a bloody amazing, outstanding mother. (Fuck the step!!)

Thinking of you heaps.

Topcat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jungletwins said...

That was a really powerful post. In all of those stories I wouldn't say you were "playing" at being a mother, I would say you were succeeding. Beautifully. In the hardest of circumstances. That makes you more of mother than countless others who wear the title based on biology but have never earned it a day in their lives. You have more than earned it.

Joonie said...

Sweetie, You already are a "real mother". Mothering is more than going through pregnancy or childbirth, it's the unconditional love that you give to another human being. You are more a mother than most of us will ever be.

Here's wishing you a successful cycle!
Lots of Hugs,

Melbagirl said...

Just wondering how you are going ... how you are feeling ...

Sending positive energy your way.

Glenda said...


Know the test is coming up....thinking of you (jeez, am almost as anxious as my 2ww!!!)


Dr Barreness said...

What a beautiful and moving piece of writing.