Friday, November 16, 2012

Mothering: A Microscopic View

:Photo Credit: Jennifer Wolterstorff
About five years ago, I heard NPR  report on medical findings that each baby sloughs off cells into her mother’s uterus. These cells mingle for decades, maybe a mother’s whole life, said the researches. They drew blood years after pregnancies and found cells with foreign DNA swirling around in momma’s blood. There are further implications, they reported, but studies are not finished.

How intriguing! Think of the Mother of God, Mary. What was left in her? I told my friends about the findings, and waited to hear more. The thread of those studies cut off. Radio silence. Recently, I found the stories again, but for a while, I wondered, did I cook them up?

I am a momma. I know I carry the kids' germs in my blood. I know I carry heat, inordinate impatience. I carry every cold the kids brought home. My blood boils hardball with all the sugar I eat after a stressful day. All that sweetness I could release boils hardball through my veins. My heart thuds. After it settles, I feel the fear coursing, the failure, the unknown future, my secret shortcomings.

As soon as they were born, I knew what I contracted out. I looked into those watery newborn eyes for the fourth time in the wee hours of the night. I changed the diapers, the sheets, my milk soaked bras and sleeping shirts. I wept exhaustion, excreted frustration. and trembled. I had to lock up these urges to quit already, to run off. This child would squeeze out my secrets, I thought. I mothered two children, two keys, it seemed, who might unlock all my shortcomings and dump my secrets out into plain view.

I did not know I retained pinprick bits of my daughter and son. I thought mothering was all about giving. These reports were star lights. To think I had spent years, counting up losses, not gains.

The losses were minute at first, like my friends whose curly hair went stick-straight after one baby, and half-curled after another.

“Stop the car now.” I told my husband as we drove by Italian food fast. Even a whiff of beef had me puking for the first weeks of the pregnancy. Now it was beef and spaghetti sauce. He pulled over and I wretched on the curb. I lost nineteen pounds by the end of the first trimester.  I gained it and a sixty-pound padding before she was born. We quit meat within weeks of her birth. I hoped it, and breastfeeding, would melt the pounds. It took another ten years yet to restore equilibrium to the scales.I

Five years later, I lost nineteen pounds in another first trimester. I ate half a soy-protein bar every two hours and a bowl of Coco-Wheats, fortified. with 90% iron, three times a day. It was all I could eat. I read that what I ate during the pregnancy would influence my baby’s palate, so by the end of morning sickness, I bought vegetables that made the cashiers at an Indiana market screw up their faces and ask, “What is this?”  Leeks, fennel, brocolrabi, kohlrabi, celery root, parsnips, beets, arugula. I sliced strange fruit, strange at least  by Hoosier standards. I fixed daily omelets: two eggs, milk,  asadero and smoked provolone cheese with spinach, onions, herbs, garlic, pepper, salt.

Heartbearn ripped up my chest and down my arm. My stomach turned out. Flatulence and pain tore me up. I eliminated my favorite foods, the Vidalias I caramelized, the red onions on my strawberry spinach salad, the sesame and soy sauce, my steamed broccoli, the peanut butter, oats, honey in my protein snacks.  After pregnancy number two, nothing going into my mouth was safe again. Eleven years later, I have pity parties at every holiday. Gastro-diversity damns me to anguish.

Other mothers lost more. One baby cost iron, resulting in years of sleeplessness and fatigue. After the next baby, she regained her usual vim. Scientists and reported document all about  the losing. How can we shed the baby weight? What affect is giving birth on career options? The hidden cost of parenting is lost sex, sleep, lost money. When depressed and isolated mothers fessed up about the loss of joy we lumped in the psychological costs.

I’m known for being a bit of a Negative-Nelly. I can focus on struggle, sacrifice and deficiency with interminable energy. What I want and need to know is what I gained. Now that my children are in middle and high school, I feel I’m getting ready to lose them, just when I see their beautiful souls added to my inmost circle. Before I ruin it all with my despondency, I’d like to count all that I have gained. I would like to transform the bits of them they are leaving in my body, my psyche, into something miraculous, something like what the Mother of God kept, and stored up. Some time before we lose each other, please.