From the post, Powerful Photos: Moms see their babies for the very first time - if you have a minute, go on over there and take a look at the rest of these. I really think you should. When I went looking for a photograph I found smiling, happy, perfect moms and babies; cleaned up, sparkling, upper middle class, expertly photographed, blissful mothers and their infants and sometimes if the moment was right the father might be in there too. Even when I typed the word newborn it was all so squeaky clean and well lit and beautiful with perfect hair and makeup by Annabelle LaGuardia. I knew this would happen. It's what we're willing to show, not necessarily what we want to see. Don't judge us so harshly so fast.
I typed the words home and birth and hit enter again and got a whole other selection. You want vulnerability and willingness? Try that.
What kills me about this photograph is the father. The birth of his child, who happens to be his third, by the way after fifty hours of labor and if you want the scary scary brave details go read it, the birth of his child is just too much to bear.
I wonder if that child will ever have the capacity to understand the depth of his father's love. This photograph will help but it won't explain everything. I understand. I've been there three times and I've seen two men entirely undone by something I still have no real explanation for.
Why do we love?
That's not even a question worth asking, I don't think, at least not about our children. I'm willing to continue beating the dead horse of adult attraction, lust, love, and commitment because I'd still like to believe I have some sort of choice in the outcome, but I'm willing to accept what occurs at the moment of birth at face value. I'm also willing to accept the tragedy of circumstances that turn off the switch or muffle the connection as truth and willing to accept the theory that some of us are hardwired without the switch, but that's something else entirely.
How do I tell you the way in which I love you? How do I show you the depths of my heart?
When I was growing up, almost as far back as I can remember, when my parents were frustrated they would tell me:
Just wait until you have children!
I can't wait until you have children, then I'll get even!
When you have children, I hope they're ten times worse because you deserve it!
I was thinking last night about my son and this thing that is broken between us that I've never managed to repair because I can't find a way in. I imagine Mike like a shell you could pick up and shake and when you did you would hear all the broken pieces rattling around in there and then I think of the last time I saw him cry with the blanket I knit him draped over his shoulders and his life coming undone because he couldn't seem to make different choices and if I were then who I am today the way choices I made then would be different. Can you see the parallel path? I find myself reaching back ten years trying to put my arms back around that boy and pull him close so he'll know, as if that might save him. Or something.
One of the hard and fast promises I made myself before I left home just past my eighteenth birthday was that I would never, under any circumstances say those things to my children. Ever. I would never say, just wait until you have children...
Because every time I heard that, any variation of it, a part of me died.
However, sometime in the morning of November 10, 1986 in a hospital bed in Norwalk, CT I held my warm, sleepy seven pound boy in my arms and pressed my face into the top of his head.
The four major hormonal systems active during labor and birth are oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline and noradrenaline, and prolactin. Between them they are the hormones of love, pleasure, transcendence, excitement, and the last is called the mothering hormone. This stuff doesn't just rush right out of the system; it hangs around a bit. Some of it sticks with you until your milk dries up. I wonder if prolactin levels don't stay up higher in some than others.
That said, I had a rush of emotion accompanied by a revelation I've carried with me for over thirty-one years which has gotten me through some very hard times. I tried to explain it to my parents but for some reason I couldn't make them hear it or if they heard it I couldn't see that it landed. I found a book of poetry that described exactly what I felt. I bought copies for everyone in my family. Only my husband seemed to understand. In the end I gave up and saved one for my son. Eventually I forgot and the book probably got tossed.
The revelation was about exactly how much my parents loved me. Not just the how much of it but the how and the what and the why of it.
And I looked at my boy and thought
God, I hope you have children. I hope you have children because how the hell are you ever going to know how much I love you? How will you know that you've broken me? How will you know the ways in which you've changed me? How will you ever understand the lengths that I will go for you? That I would die for you, give up everything for you, be crushed for you...
All those hormones but the truth of it remains.
Nine days later in a parking lot outside the local grocery store I held him in a front pack just outside my car. I looked down at the top of his head and cried. I stood crying until an old man asked if I was alright and suggested I put the baby in the car, it being cold and the baby being so small. I cried and cried and cried and said
I have no idea how I'm possibly going to keep him safe in the world. I don't know how to do it.
I was twenty-two and it was the tail end of 1986.
The old man patted my arm and said I'd do just fine as long as I kept him warm and dry and then he walked off toward his car.
I looked down at Mike and was startled by the realization that kill for him. With my bare hands if that's what it came to. I felt fierce and powerful and put him in the car and drove home.
The Ethics of Having Children in the New Millennium
Now it is January, 2018 and there are many reasonable suggestions that the generation which has come of age and the trailing generation not have children or reproduce with a great deal of thought. I drove my father to distraction on Christmas Eve when I made a contextual statement he heard, and held onto, quite literally.
I invite this generation of women to choose not to have babies. (or something close enough to that) Contextually I was speaking to women putting themselves in bondage in response to my son's distress at the men of his own generation having not come particularly far in terms of how they thought of women overall. The man sitting next to him at a bar, in earnest tells Mike that he does not believe women have what it takes to lead and something about staying home and having babies. The man is probably younger than Mike and we can't really make excuses for the guy being raised that way because that is, after all, how it's propagated and who will stop the propagation? Certainly not the men and boys, not because it serves them so much but because there isn't much motivation to put up a fight and plenty of motivation to avoid it. Nobody likes being told what he's just said or done is offensive and most, no matter how well intentioned will at least start out with a good defense.
Can we really expect the men and boys who have been raised by mothers who have either truly believed the same, or not managed to stand up, to be the ones to break the cycle? That's delusional.
(um, don't for a minute think I'm letting anyone off the hook, wait for it)
I told my son that I was pretty sure it was on women, after all, to break out of our own bondage and that what mostly held us there was the vulnerability of pregnancy, childbirth, and the early years of motherhood. After that it's subjective. Stockholm syndrome sets in I guess. I stopped rewriting women's resumes a few years back because it was too damn depressing, like dragging a horse to water or worse, a completely freaked out horse out of a barn fire. All this education and early work history followed by a good chunk of years out of the workforce having failed to do what SAHD's do which is maintain the network but still, the past hasn't vanished. Skill sets are still marketable, you just have to believe these things and be able to see past a solid line. I know, I'm asking a lot but maybe not so much. In any event, I'm not going to stop asking it, I just can't bring myself to rewrite a resume for a woman who has no intention of going back to work. The reasons why not are astonishing. The would be male captors have long since walked away and she's sitting there wrapped up in her chains the way Sisyphus continued to push that damn rock long after Lucifer opened the gates of hell after he lost the bet with Morpheus. Except he didn't really lose the bet. Morpheus lost the bet; Sisyphus wanted that rock.
I invite women to cross their legs, focus on their own futures and see what shakes out in ten or fifteen years.
It's OK. The world won't stop turning and the human race will not become extinct. The problem is that hormone cocktail I mentioned a couple hundred paragraphs above:
"The four major hormonal systems active during labor and birth are oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline and noradrenaline, and prolactin. Between them they are the hormones of love, pleasure, transcendence, excitement, and the last is called the mothering hormone."
Do you suppose those hormones only kick in when that bloody winner in the sperm war reaches the egg? I think not. As a species, as any species, life will find a way. Problematically speaking, as with the over population of deer in the 2200 acres behind my house, when you're at the top of the food chain (which means you don't have a predator at the moment and nothing else) you keep right on breeding until your ecosystem gives out. This would suggest that we don't have a choice.
But we do.
Having smacked down the Catholic Church a good number of global citizens have managed to go from having eleven to seventeen (I pulled those numbers out of my ass) to zero to five children. Birth control. It's a choice (at the moment, old white men, hmmm).
I don't mean to suggest the choice is easy or that it can be made without effort; I mean to suggest that it can be made.
So there's that.
There's a whole other philosophical discussion that could take place, discussions that have and are taking place on what would or could happen if women stopped having babies or even if enough of us just had them on our own. Just the one and moved on. It's the same old Lysistrata story Aristophanes told us in 411 BC except it's not really a comedy and it can be about stopping anything; war, bondage, world hunger, climate change (oops, too late), the destruction of our ecosystem (um, might be too late, there's strong argument that it's way too late), a collapsing economy..., pick one. The women Greece withheld sex and that in itself is telling, that this is what Aristophanes decided was most valuable or that this was funny; I'm not really sure which. Maybe both. Even today that particular comedy is timely. It has aged quite well; we still think of female value in terms of sexuality and we still find it funny that women would try or men would fall for it. It was never about sex. I don't think it was really a comedy (were they ever?). We laugh when we're frightened. I do wonder about those Greek women in 411 BC.
There's this other thing which can be extrapolated from the last conversation or you can just look out the window or google some statistics. The world population, you all know this, has grown exponentially since the Industrial Revolution. The fertility rates have also dropped in key areas but that doesn't mean growth has stopped, it hasn't, it's just moved from one geographic region to another. Our children really have stopped having babies. Not entirely but it is slowing down. Some of them have stopped because they simply can't afford it and while that might not have stopped my generation (it did not), it is slowing down the generation(s) of my children. They do not want the debt of their parents and they do not necessarily believe it is morally or ethically reasonable to bring children into the world in its current state.
This affects me directly both financially and emotionally. I can live with both one way or another but it's the part about the ache in my heart that keeps me up at night.
I don't directly feel the need for grandchildren. I don't feel it at all, actually. I have no feelings in one direction or another. I wonder about these parents who do. Am I missing something? Am I hormonally deficient? Do I have to go all the way through menopause before something kicks in or am I just one of those human beings who's managed to break the bonds? Maybe.
I do want something though and I want it very badly. Scroll all the way up to the top and look at that man's face or at least as much of it as you can see. Look at his body language. If you go to the site you'll see similar shots of mothers with hearts breaking open for the first time since they passed through the age of discovery and the walls started to come down.
I have loved men with an intensity I thought might shatter me but I have never loved another human being the way I love my children.
I want them to know this thing that transcends language. I want them to understand the depth of my love because don't we all deserve to feel what it is to stand in the light of God?
There is a reason we call birth a miracle and I don't think it has as much to do with the mechanics of it as what happens in those first few seconds...
This is the root of my grief.