A lot of parenting is navigating pain. Sometimes it’s hers. Sometimes it’s mine. Sometimes it’s physical. Other times emotional or mental.
And every time, Every. Time. It’s exhausting.
Now, I’m not particularly adept at processing emotions. Especially when it comes to anger. Anger has always been an ephemeral beast to me – A cloud of awkward rage that I usually combat with humor and whisky. One would think that becoming a parent would magically embolden me to slay this splenetic nemesis. Yet, I stubbornly stayed true to my tactics of avoidance. So Anger upped the ante and gifted my daughter with a rage so pure that, when combined with her unforgiving wit, tends to shatter my well oiled defense mechanisms to tiny, tear soaked smithereens.
This hot tempered reality is particularly tough to navigate when both of us are in pain. You see, my seven- year- old, Billie, has always wanted a sibling. I assumed it was the typical ‘only child battle cry’ that affected all kids in her situation. But the intense fervor with which she requested a sibling only escalated as time went on and her request went unfilled.
Naturally, we eventually agreed with her assessment and decided to start trying. But our attempts were unsuccessful. They left me broken and exhausted, spurned and betrayed by my own body. After the third and final miscarriage left me hospitalized and in need of an emergency D&C, I found myself a fleshy extension of my mattress. Sure, I went to work. I ran errands. I posted witty things on the internet. But I was completely depleted. Worse than the debility was the quiet antipathy that shuddered through my body when I inhaled too deeply. I had been depressed before. I could handle pain. But the anger? It immobilized me at the weirdest moments. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, shopping at the grocery store, and picking up Billie from school were all innocuous times that I could expect to be seized with a hatred so pure that it would catch in my chest and leave me vulnerable and frozen.
Now, Billie often asked me for a sibling. In the past, She knew enough about the reproductive system to know that the actual pregnancy part is the woman’s “job” so my husband, Doug, was largely exempt from her persistent questioning. But the questioning had begun to get more persistent, more desperate, more angry.
So I brought it up to Doug. I informed him that the sheer quantity of Billie’s begging and pleading for me to “put a baby in” my “belly” was wearing me down.
But how could he possibly understand the extent to which the request broke me? He tried to relate, of course, but there was no way for him to understand that every pleading question from her brought me back to that emergency room, shuddering in the over-starched hospital gown and bent over at the waist from the pain. I couldn’t explain that I could still feel the pressure in my abdomen, that I could taste the bile burning my throat, that I still, even now, see that damned heartbeat flickering in my mind’s eye. He was receptive and kind and all the things he could be. He informed Billie that babies took a long time sometimes and, other times, never came. Ultimately, the decision was up to us and she would have to be patient. But Billie’s questioning persisted.
Originally, we had made the decision to not tell Billie about the miscarriages. When I was in the hospital we simply told her that mommy was sick and needed as much rest and love as possible. She was happy to oblige. But less than one week removed from the hellish incident, she seemed to forget herself. She angrily stomped into the living room, where I had propped myself up with pillows, and began yelling about all the opportunities she had missed out on because she didn’t have a sibling.
I watched her, still aching and reeling from what I had gone through, and shifted myself so I could look her in the eye. “Billie,” I said sternly, “I can’t…” But then I lost my nerve. My eyes flooded with tears and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. “I can’t with you. I can’t do this with you. Go talk to your father.”
It was the first time I had ever shied away from a tough conversation with her.
Usually that’s my forte.
I’m the master of the tough talks. You want to talk about sex? Menstruation? Racism? Sexism? The short lived discontinuation of Betty Crocker’s Rainbow Chip Frosting? I’m alllll there. I love those moments. I live for them.
But not this one.
“Just go,” I snap when I see she hasn’t moved, gape mouthed at the fact I’m silencing the dialogue, “Go to your dad.”
So she went. And I stayed. And it was at this moment that I determine I had lost it. I’d lost the fight in me. I was tired and hurting and pushing my own child away. I disappeared into the couch.
So I gave myself one day. I wallowed and grieved and pitied the ever loving balls out of myself. And, on day two, I woke up with Billie’s breath on my eyebrows.
“MOOOOOOMMMMMM” she breathes, “I’m awake!”
“Did you know that you were my miracle?” I say to her.
There is no irony or frustration in my voice. I am actually asking.
“Noooooooo,” she says excitedly, “I’m a miracle???”
“Yes,” I say, “The doctor’s said that it would be impossible for me to have kids. But then I had you.”
“They said it was impossible?” she asks.
“They did,” I continue, “And, even now, it will be hard for me to have more children. It will take another miracle.”
“Will it take a long time for me to get a baby brother or baby sister?”
“Yes,” I say, “It might take a long time.”
“NOOOO,” She’s frustrated, “I want a baby brother! Calliope (her cousin) gets one! EVERYBODY GETS ONE. AND I DON’T. It’s NOT FAIR.”
I have to calm myself down. She’s hurting. It stings.
“Are you sad?” I ask.
“Are you angry?” I watch her body tense before she answers.
“Me too,” I say, “I’m sad and angry too. Super angry. I want you to have a baby brother or sister and it breaks me too.”
She takes it in. Before this, it hadn’t occurred to me to share my pain with her. To let her in. I had made every effort to make myself an island, to not let her see me struggle or even cry. I had shut down and pushed her away. But now, she looks at me.
“You’re mad, too?”
“Really mad,” I confirm.
She hugs me.
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“Me too, love.”
And that was it. She has brought it up since then, of course, but now, when she approaches the topic, it’s more an act of commiseration and not one of attack. She knows she’s not alone in this. She knows I’m here and hurting too. And it’s not perfect. And it’s not tied up in a pretty little bow. It’s messy and it’s awkward and it’s tough. But we’re here in this messy – awkward – tough space together. Maybe eventually I will disclose the nitty gritty of the situation. But for now she has an ally in this pain. She has a partner. And, I do too. And, honestly, that’s all I need for now.