July 14th, 2015
Today, a woman with three small children walked past my mother’s house as I searched for the keys to unlock the door. She happened to be a patient at the midwifery office where I work. She found out this morning that she was having a miscarriage.
Her toddler clung to the stroller, his eyes focused on me like tiny espresso beans as they passed by. There were four little feet kicking in the stroller, their ages still numbered in months not years.
Her strides were long and deliberate, she didn’t look sad or distracted. It looked like just another day, taking the kids out for a walk in the summer humidity before the thunderstorm rolls in.
There is no one more deserving of the word resilient to me than a mother. I don’t mean to neglect fathers – it just seems that there is a special kind of silent struggle I see in mothers. To internalize. To push forward. To not fall apart.
It was by chance that I saw her unremarkable evening walk through the neighborhood, and it made me think of my mother.
Months into a series of operations to lengthen one of my legs, my mom had to go back to work. I was thirteen, bossy, and inconsolable. The preliminary operation was in November, and the expectation was that after a few months of adjusting, by February I would be back in school, and she could return to work.
That is not at all what happened. Every week with the fixator was a series of complications and disasters – insufficient pain management meant no putting weight on the leg, which meant no walking. Crutches made navigating middle-school hallways an anxious and exhausting nightmare. Switching medications led to drug withdrawal, mood swings, and reverting. I was no longer a thirteen year old. I don’t know what I was.
I required physical therapy several times a week, weekly parent teacher conferences, and unlimited attention. I sucked every bit of energy out of my mother that I could. I came to believe so desperately that we were in it together that I resented her for not being the one wearing the fixator. I accused her of being able to escape the nightmare, when I couldn’t.
There were so many nights that I was unable to sleep, that she programmed our phone to work as a walkie-talkie. I would call her, sometimes crying into the phone until she heard me, other times yelling into the phone like an angsty drill sergeant. She came into my room every time, eyes half shut. If I needed the rice sock for pain, she went downstairs and microwaved it. When it got cold, she reheated it. She rubbed my feet until I fell asleep. When I woke up, I nudged her and she did it again. Some nights I woke her up three times, like a newborn. She was back to that level of exhaustion, of constantly being needed. Only now, she had a strung-out thirteen year old capable of inducing guilt, using profanity, and pushing her away.
We went on like this for four months. Four months that she woke up to feed me, took me to physical therapy, left me as I wept and begged her not to go, worked until I paged her, came home to check on me, went back to work, came home to make dinner, finished the work she had left to do, and finally went to sleep. Then either I or a patient in labor would call her.
A mother’s resilience is unlike anything I am capable of understanding. Perhaps it is because I am not yet a mother. The fortitude to feel such desperate, raw exhaustion and pain and move through it gracefully seems to be innate in these women. They make it seem as if it isn’t a choice, but I know that it is. I know in my heart that when that cordless phone lit up lime green for the third time in a night, she must have considered smothering it or yelling into it, “I can’t do this anymore.”
But she didn’t. As cruel as I was at times, as unfair, as simultaneously needy and standoffish, she was my constant. She held me together when I couldn’t see the future anymore and every day passed by like the last.
It ended. We celebrated. I began to become a thirteen year old again, and a month later, a fourteen year old. I started talking about boys again, and wanting to be with my friends, and not wanting to be with her.
That may have been the hardest part. The joy of watching me get better and the pain of me not needing her anymore.
But I did. And I do.