Thursday, March 8, 2012

What Makes A Mother?

A great welcome to my dear friend, Margaret Rowe, my first ever guest blogger.  Margaret has struggled for some years with what is known as secondary infertility, a heartbreaking condition which inadvertently brings with it the extra suffering of un-thought-out hurtful comments and enquiries.  This piece was written when all the emotions of heartbreak and joy were fresh in her heart..  Read to the end...

Mother's Day

Rightly or wrongly I imagined people who didn’t know us assumed we only wanted one child, that we were a bit selfish and pre-occupied, those who knew us only scantily, blithely asked when we were going to have more children, in the most inopportune ways in the most inappropriate places, naked in the changing room of the gym is my personal favourite. Or a man, with whom I have had exactly one conversation in five years, who three days after my first miscarriage, as I dragged wheelie bins to the side of house, shouted from across the road his blinding insight “ time for another one don’t you think”. People are not trying to be cruel; I understand that it’s just something you say. But to casually comment on the most intimate aspect some-one’s life is thoughtless at best and ignorant at worst. 

For the best part of the three years, I took ovulation drugs on the third day of my cycle, and for fourteen days of each cycle I received hormone support, all monitored by monthly blood test and ultrasounds. There was other medication taken daily and a series of stringent dietary restrictions designed to keep an autoimmune responses at bay so my body wouldn’t attack itself if pregnant.

It takes its toll, all this deliberateness on a relationship. Everything becomes a bit joyless, and focused on something you may never attain. It wears you out. I tried really hard not to become that woman whose life was dominated by her desire to have a child, defined by her pain. I did not want to be the person people felt wary about sharing their good news with or letting slip that so-in-so was expecting. A woman who could not bear to congratulate people on the birth of their children. Who avoided contact with new-born babies. The one who resented her life because she some how thought yours was better and easier.

But I was that woman; my gut reaction when people mentioned their pregnancies was to recoil internally. I guarded against letting it show. Admonished myself “Why should other people feel uncomfortable and suffer because your life has not worked as you would have liked” I had no intention of making any kind of truce with the seductive temptation of being a victim. And mostly, it really sucks feeling like that towards people you like and care for.

So I repeated this mantra over and over again. “ You’re a lucky woman, with a good life, you have one healthy beautiful child. You have a husband who loves and supports you” But the reality fell far short.  I felt guilty. It was my fault, my body, something I had done or not done my ignorance. When I was younger if I had pushed doctors more, not allowed a dismissal with a prescription for ponstan and forced them to take my deadening PMT and crippling periods pain seriously. Then maybe I could have prevented the slow demise of what is unique to woman, my ability to conceive.

After the first miscarriage, there was the safe refuge of drama; my husband was away, and I relied on friends for support as he made his sad dash home. So I cried a bit, shook my fist at God, but regrouped and kept going, the same for the second miscarriage. But after the third miscarriage, I stood in the kitchen, angry and desolate. I wanted to give up. It took so long and such effort to get pregnant, and it just kept ending in disappointment and sadness. My husband wanted to keep going, I resented him, thought he was being cruel and insensitive. So he felt the full force of my fury, a moving target for my frustration. How dare he be so calm and detached. But he told me how he had spent his day avoiding those around him, stuck in reports and logistics. Terrified of innocent questions, one act of kindness would destroy him and his reserve would tumble down.

So we galvanised ourselves one more time, the last time. We agreed, we would accept our situation and be grateful for the family we have. Again we arranged our life around my cycle, made the round trip to Galway to see our Doctor.

The faint blue lines divided the oval window, pregnant, I stared at it dispassionately; I tried to think about what clothes I should wear that day. Unlike the other times, I resisted the urge to ring my husband straight away. No hope was allowed, assuming the worst was the best way to deal with this.

They always apologise, just before they apply the gel to your stomach for an ultrasound. I can never understand that, it is not an unpleasant feeling or one worthy of note. Perhaps it’s a pre-emptive strike at sympathy, against greater pain and tragedy. Our Doctor was silent and solemn, the grey plastic of the ultrasound slid across my stomach resting here and there, then again, back and forth, there was no heartbeat, no sign of life. Game over. My Anglo Saxon resolve disintegrated in tandem with my hope. My husband could not hold me; our daughter was with us in the doctor’s office, there was no babysitter available that day. I was momentarily shielded from life by a curtain, sobbing away the emptiness. You pull yourself together, dress yourself, wipe your tears and walk out into the world. I became another body moving through the foyer of the hospital. What was everyone else here for, what crosses did they bear. Worse than mine I imagine. But in that moment, selfishly, naturally, or both, I just didn’t care.

So you start the process by telling yourself a pack of lies. No more nappies, no more sleepless nights, no more potty training, lots of free time now your one and only is at school. You can go to the gym now, you can write you novel now, you can have lots of adult conversations now, you can go back to work now, paint your nails now, and fulfil your potential now. But its bullshit, this fallacy that renders children as nothing more then drudgery and inconvenience. Of course it’s nice to have free time, I’ve been a beleaguered mum longing for some headspace and the right  to go the bathroom alone. But once you taste the privilege of parenthood, free time is only nice because of children not instead of them.

Then there is the overwhelming guilt and contradiction of having a lone child. Only children are lonely. It’s a fact. Not all the time, not everyday. But they are. It’s a hard thing to admit to, mostly because it true. Only children are spoilt. Not constantly, not deliberately or materially if you have any sense. But if they have two adults rotating round them, anticipating and analysing they’re every move, compensating. Then they will be. My daughter’s teacher would remark at how articulate she was, how mature her conversation was in comparison to her peers. Maybe that’s just her, it’s also fair to say that she has had too many one on one conversation with adults because she has no choice. Of course siblings fight, of course they are jealous of each, of course it spills over into adulthood and they cause each other grief and pain. It also true that they have each other, and most people have functioning, loving, if imperfect relationships with their siblings. At the very least they have each other to complain about. It all has value, even if it causes us to suffer, it always worth having something then not.

So I was miserable. And angry at my misery and my lack of acceptance, I’m not special, or different,  I didn’t want to be a victim, plenty of people have no children and must view me with jealous regard.

I lay in bed, physically ill, waiting for the inevitable. My Doctor had counselled we double check in a week or two, have another scan, it seemed more routine advice then a glimmer of hope. The rush of blood came steady and bright. I only changed the sheets as something to do in a long torturous day. But still felt dragging, deadening nausea. We went to the local hospital, letter in hand, it mercifully explained our dilemma so we didn’t have to. We had made this death row drive before, the day bright and sunny, we tried our best to be too.  When you enter a hospital expecting the worst, the walls and the doors approach you, not the other way round, everything happens at a pace that’s just a step too fast, no matter how slow you move. Cursory questions from the kindly nurse and up on the trolley, adjusting my clothes. The Doctor on duty was young and handsome. There’s this hilarious primal over-ride in human beings, God’s wry sense of humour. We just really want attractive people to like us, no matter what the situation. I smiled at my superficial instinct, a gentle lightening of a dark moment.

His cheery young face turned towards me “ There’s the heart beat “ “ What “ My instinct was to thump him not hug him, a child doing a man’s job. He turned the monitor towards me. A tiny blinking grey cloud, on off, on off, a formless lighthouse with a soul. I only realised I was crying when the nurse handed me the rough green tissue. It distracted me for a nano second. My husband sat forward like he was trying to catch the image on the screen. It was unreal in the most fantastic way possible.

So a few weeks ago we went to the park. Pushing the pram we had used for my daughter. She bombed along like a dervish, riding a purple bike with stabilisers she gotten for her 5th birthday. My husband dashed ahead to keep her from hurdling into the wall. The pram rolled over a stone and disturbed his highness from his slumber, eye’s flicking doll-like in his head until he resumed his starfish pose. Fast asleep, my newborn son, unaware of the world around and how much we wanted him to be part of it, how much we all needed him, and the changes he brought. 

Sleepless nights, sore nipples, exhaustion, a crooked back and a million tiny stupid ailments +that I was delighted to have the privilege to moan about. My children are my most prized treasures, I would love more, and maybe having experienced one miracle it may happen again. But they have each other now, him and her, and I hope and pray that I won’t let them down too badly, teach them too imperfectly and neglect my indebtedness to them for making me a better person. 


Happy Mother’s Day to all of us, those who have too many children, too few, no children, not enough time, not enough sleep, not enough money, no support, no father, not enough gratitude in your life, to those of us who have regrets and sorrows. This day means more than triumphantly proclaiming fecundity, it means reflecting on the essential power of your femininity, on the prescient desire and the drive to nurture a child. On the sacrifices made to be a mother, how we run the risk of being pummelled and devastated. And more importantly it’s a day for every person who ever had a mother. It’s a day to reflect on what that means, on the power it bestows and the value it incurs .And to decide today how we each can support mothers, of all ages and backgrounds and situations. And allow them to feel proud of the sacrifices they have made to take a risk on life. They are the gate-keepers of the future, without whom there is no tomorrow. 

Happy Mother’s Day.

  As a little addendum, here is the link to NaPro Technology website.  

NaPro TECHNOLOGY (Natural Procreative Technology) is a new women's health science that monitors and maintains a woman's reproductive and gynaecological health.  It provides medical and surgical treatments that cooperate fully with the reproductive system.

Thirty years of scientific research in the study of the normal and abnormal states of the menstrual and fertility cycles have unravelled their mysteries.

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  1. Oh, my. I'm not sure I've ever read such an article on motherhood, so raw, honest, unpretentious and insightful. "But once you taste the privilege of parenthood, free time is only nice because of children not instead of them." So true! Thanks for opening your heart and sharing. Your baby is beautiful!

  2. So beautifully written, and heartfelt. I cried. Then smiled, and smiled, and smiled. As Kelly noted, ...."But once you taste the privilege of parenthood, free time is only nice because of children not instead of them."..... rings very true. Thank you Margaret for sharing your feelings and helping your readers to be more thoughtful. And yes, Killian is an absolute treasure, as all gifts from God are. Happiness is....... Love to you and yours <3. Steph

  3. Wow, massive congrats 2 u and urs...Such honesty and realism is rare, and very much appreciated. I myself have a "lone child" who is spoiled beyond reason, as if spoilig her will make up for the fact that she'l always be a "lone child". Thank You from the bottom of my heart..... BTW, Killian is a dote....Njoy x

  4. A beautiful and brave post. Congratulations to you, what a wonderful blessing in your families life. Happy Mother's Day to you too! xx

  5. Thank you Steph, Kelly and Edelle, I wrote that nearly a year ago, and it was all a bit raw, but infertility affects so many and is on the rise in the west at an alarming rate, and its not just maternal age - that's just a contributing factor, it makes you wonder. By the way, Killian is now walking and pulling the house down!


    1. You forgot to add he's a kissable little cutie-pie!!


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