By Christine Yunhee Jones
Jackson NJ USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 1, January-February 2005, pp. 11-14
To my Daughter, Aisling:
It is said that, since a newborn girl is born with all of the reproductive eggs she will have for the rest of her life, when our mothers carried us inside their wombs, they also nurtured their future grandchildren.
Ever since I can remember, I have always had the desire to become a mother. I also knew that a woman did not need to physically sustain life inside of her to be mother. I came to my own mother, your grandmother, through adoption. I wish you had had a chance to meet her, but it wasn't meant to be, though she knew of you and was excited for you. Through her I learned that motherhood was about carrying a child in your heart. It is a privilege and an honor that carries great responsibility, yet it is something that often seems to be taken for granted. I decided early on that if I were ever blessed with a child, I would love, honor, and protect him or her with all my might.
I do not know why my biological mother was unable to care for me, and I will probably never know. Through the years, I've often wondered what the reasons might have been that she chose to relinquish me, or if she had even made the choice willingly. Always a realist, I never fantasized a heroic story line. Truthfully, I never even considered it much until I began my own journey into motherhood.
When I found out that a new life was growing in my uterus, my world was forever changed in a way that I hope you will one day experience as well, if you so choose. You were very much wanted, and from the moment your father and I knew of your existence, you were human, real, and loved. You were a gift from God, from the universe, and a symbol of the eternal circle of life.
For the next nine months my body nurtured you in my womb despite many physical difficulties and overwhelming sadness from the world outside. I remember talking to my dear mother on the phone on September 11th, 2001. The two of us were shocked and nauseous together, wondering what kind of human beings could take away so many lives in an instant and feel justified in doing so. It all seems so surreal now. Somehow, though, knowing that I had a precious new life growing inside gave us both hope for a better future.
By the time you were born, your grandmother was gone. In her final hours, she asked me to tell you only about the "good times"—and I promised I would. One day I will tell you about how your grandmother overcame amazing odds to become a mother, not once, but twice. Once through birth, losing my older brother, Johnny, just a few short days later, and then through my own adoption. I will tell you about how she fought for her rights as a disabled woman in the workplace, and again when she was told that she could not be an adoptive mother. I will tell you how this woman of faith taught me about the fragility of life, respect for all life, and ultimately of the sacredness of motherhood.
The experience of sheltering your tiny body was one of the greatest gifts I will ever know, and I am grateful to you for having chosen me as your mother. Hearing your heartbeat was beautiful, and each twist and turn of your body brought endless fascination. I embraced my changing body with pride. Each little nuance was a reminder of the miracle-in-the-making inside me. I was honored to be just a small part of the amazing person you were becoming day by day. Any minor and temporary inconveniences of pregnancy hardly mattered, or I barely noticed them at all. As the time for me to birth you from my body quickly approached, I was very anxious to meet you. I was also a little sad, too. This would be the first of many times I would be letting you go.
Perhaps you were not yet ready to leave the warmth and comfort of my womb either. You lay inside me, face up and head extended outward, as though you were unsure whether or not to make your appearance just yet—but there was no turning back for either of us. As the moment of your arrival drew ever so close, I remembered a poem I had read in homage to the linea nigra (the brownish line that runs down the middle of the abdomen as a result of skin pigment changes during pregnancy). The mother wore her linea nigra with pride, like the bold stripes of the tigress. I couldn't think of a better way to describe how I felt during my pregnancy, and wished that every expectant woman could experience that same pride and joy.
Soon enough, the days of waiting became merely hours. Your father and I had given much thought to your birth experience. We wanted you to be born gently and naturally into the world, and we trusted that my body would do what it was designed to do when the moment arrived, if we only let it. Therefore, it was important that I labor and birth in an environment where I felt safe and could be protected from any unnecessary interventions. A place where strong, wise women help other women believe in and work with their bodies, not against them. Where midwives guide, but never interfere. A place where a mother could be free to express her emotions in a primal way. The freedom to move about naked, squat, float, shower, and replenish her body in whatever way seemed necessary. A private space with no wires, cords, or monitors. No glaring lights, no intercoms, no electronic noises, and no time limits. A place where birth is recognized as normal and where mothers are empowered to trust their instincts in the care of their new baby. A place where the maternal and infant bond is fiercely protected. We chose a freestanding birth center with midwives and we prepared ourselves mentally and physically for the birth we dreamed of.
My labor was long and exhausting. It was loud. It was moaning. It was screaming. It was crying, stomping, slapping, and gripping tightly. It was floating in a warm tub and feeling the waves of each triple contraction wash over me again and again. It was no breaks in between. It was showering and squatting and then showering again. It was cool herbal tea and nausea and the gentle voice of the doula as she stroked my hair. It was my hands gripping your father's with my nails in his palms and the hands of the nurses touching my belly firmly to feel the contractions. It was the midwife, sitting in her chair, patiently awaiting the moment that she could put down her handiwork to watch me deliver you. It was on the bed, off the bed, and to my standing safety zone. It was on my side and on my hands and knees. It was not getting any sleep and not having the energy to get back into the tub at the end. It was gritty, determined, fierce, and real.
It was waiting anxiously until my body was ready to deliver you, having faith in the unknown but knowing that I would know what to do when I needed to. It was knowing when to push without having to be told. It was feeling you come through me with full sensation, fluid rushing out. It was loving hands, arms, and shoulders to lean on. Then in an instant, you slipped out of me, gently and quickly. It was having you placed on my body, blood, mucus, and vernix. "Welcome, Aisling Rhiannon." It was having you gaze directly into my eyes, fully alert and aware—as you reached up and touched my face. For the first time in my life, I could see some small physical part of myself in someone else.
I put you to my breast only minutes later, umbilical cord still pulsing iron-rich blood through your body. You knew just what to do, as I had envisioned over and over again before you arrived. Your tiny hand gripped my finger as you nourished yourself after a long journey. It was watching your father cut your umbilical cord when it stopped pulsing, as we cried tears of joy.
And when we were ready, and only then, you were gently dried off, leaving the protective coating of the vernix on your soft skin. You were not bathed and the warmth of my skin kept your temperature regulated. You were not given any injections, receiving your first and most important immunities from my milk. You were not tagged and taken away, or placed in a plastic box all alone. Instead, you slept peacefully in my arms, the sound of my heartbeat reminding you of where you once dwelled only moments before. You did not cry because we were all there for you, and we slept together, side by side, as we have been ever since. Words cannot describe the elation I felt immediately after your birth. It is a feeling that will stay with me for as long as I live.
When we came home, your grandfather, "Pop," planted the placenta that nourished you in my body in a place of honor, next to a special plant in memory of my mother, outside his home. Now something beautiful from my body, which once temporarily nourished your body, nourishes the soil of this memorial. It is a reminder of the circle of life that never ends.
Birthing naturally is an accomplishment that has spilled over into every facet of my life. Birthing naturally was not about being "a martyr." It was a conscious parenting choice we believed would give you the best start in life, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yes, it was hard work, but isn't every child worth it? It was the first of many non-violent parenting choices we have chosen for you. You have been healthy, secure, and happy ever since. What I was not prepared for was just how much I would reap from it myself. Since your birth, I feel empowered in everything that I do. I've learned to trust my maternal instincts and allow you to show me what you need. I know my body more and every day I celebrate how amazing it truly is—especially as it still continues to nurture you with my abundant milk. Birthing naturally is an experience that words cannot do justice to, and something that can only be truly understood when consciously experienced. When asked if I would do it again, there is no hesitation in my reply. God willing, yes, but if it is not meant to be ever again, I will always be grateful for the experience of having you.
My linea nigra is long gone but I am still the tigress, the lioness, and the mother bear protecting her cub. I can't imagine the pain my birth mother and your grandmother felt, losing a child. I am not "lucky" to have you; I am truly blessed. I can now understand the love and pain every mother endures for her child. After your birth, a sage told me that your grandmother is among you, playing with you and protecting you all the time. Know that wherever life takes you, you are always loved. Tonight, as you lie sleeping peacefully beside me, I wish for you a life of more joys than sorrows, as my mother did for me years ago. I sing this lullaby for you, "May the angels bright watch you tonight, and keep you while you sleep."
They say that motherhood is a sacred journey. Thank you for choosing me to be a part of your journey. I have come full circle.