My search for a mother and my search to become a mother were completely intertwined. It was in the midst of yet another month hoping to be pregnant again after my latest miscarriage when the idea to advertise for a mother came to me. Aaron and I had conceived in my early 20's and I had lost that child after much deliberation as to whether or not I would keep her, my disease status still unknown. But this child was desired without question. I never imagined I would lose her. I tricked myself into believing that losing my mother so young and losing my first child granted me a reprieve from such grief.
Still I berated myself for waiting so long to try again, believing I had brought the tragedy on myself by my age. Sure life took over and excuses were made by us both about timing. Aaron's medical training dominated our lives and I still had my doubts about my ability to be a mother. It was certainly true that I still feared the legacy of my life. How could I share my history with my child? All I could provide was myth, a web of stories pieced together from shadows from my past: a word, a scent, a half-remembered image. Stalling year after year, worried about what kind of mother I would be. What skills did I possess without my own mother's love and with a substitute, who resented my intrusion in her life more than she welcomed it?
I was in my mid 30's when my dog, Kala, was diagnosed with a nasal osteosarcoma. She was my third dog in a decade to have cancer and instantly that childhood anxiety around illness reared up once again and all of the accompanying confusion and guilt. How do you stay completely present in the face of known loss when you are terrified? How do you maintain that connection without pulling back little by little? This is what I had done as a child--remove part of myself in hopes that I would feel less. It never worked, but this was the model that I routinely adopted: become the competent caretaker able to get the job done while also trying to salvage some semblance of self. But I would not do that to her. I sensed that she would recognize my strategy. Instead I stayed engaged with her each moment, through every surgery and bad day. I looked her in the eye knowing that she would soon be gone and stayed strong for her, day in and out, through to the end when I held her in my arms as she died in our garden. I inhabited the role of mother fully for her and realized there was more strength in me than I had imagined.
With this realization, I was no longer content reading and writing about mothers and daughters. The need overwhelmed me: I must become a mother. Now. Aaron and I conceived within a few months. From day one I felt her under my skin. I was on the phone with my friend, Lisa, when I took the test. I saw my reflection in the mirror as I registered the two lines. How quickly pleasure took root in me. I didn't know how much I needed this opportunity, this chance to change my life. My body accommodated me. In producing this child, my body excavated something essential. This child was a turning point for me. A new joy unearthed itself to replace the melancholy of the past.
To tell Aaron our news, I had my neighbor photograph me with a pillow inside my dress. I laid it on the bed for him to find that night. His face flashed with the same pleasure I had seen on my own. He put his arms around me and his expression was an invitation to better days--to expanding what we had created together--love, constancy, trust. Could I learn now to have faith? Faith in my life. Faith in the future?
In those days, I was so content as if no one had ever done what I had done. I dreamt forward through the months and tried not to worry that I had been wildly under mothered or that I had no grandparents for this child. It was our time. Everyone told me to temper my enthusiasm, provided me with the statistics of how many people miscarry, but I refused to give any more energy to loss. I'd lost enough, spent my entire life consumed with loss--the actual losses and the fear of more being taken from me. It is understood by women who decide to become mothers that there is always such a risk, but I would not consider it again. Yes, I heard them all tell me it was too soon to become attached, but I did not listen. I was mesmerized by the promise of this life. I would not destroy it with fear.
This child was safe inside me, and I was standing guard. My little grain of rice grew and her heart began to beat. With her a warmth settled inside me, replacing all of the ghosts. This child was real, not conjured from wishes and dreams; earth not air. We huddled together in peace and promise and in those moments, we dreaded nothing. I called her Pink, Aaron Pink Floyd, in honor of the music which played during the dance piece that first brought us together in college all those years ago.
Counting the days, I indulged in her presence, grounded and glorious, my body enfolded with things to come. My baby grew and grew. I thought more and more of my mother and how this was an experience shared by us both. Though my child was also a mystery to me like my mother, I embraced her inside me. We were not separate. She was in the world of me concretely, fully. We could not be closer. Though this baby was not the stuff of dreams, each day that she grew, my dreams intensified. Dreams for her, dreams for myself. I wanted to become a better version of myself, to lay claim to my past for her and give it a place so that I could tell her all that she needed to know about what we shared.
I took a break from ghost writing and editing, determined to find our story, the one branded on me for which I had not yet found the words. I was suddenly desperate to give structure to the things I was most afraid of, those unbearable memories and feelings they evoked so I would no longer by haunted by that house, and those women in distress I knew as my only source of mothering. In this there was an urgency and I sat with my child and tried to keep pace with my tangled thoughts.
Let me learn not to fear, I asked each day. Let me indulge that all will be well. And it was...for a time.