All week, people have been dropping in at work, with ideas and needs and so much school board talk. A stranger dropped in yesterday and mentioned she expected to become a grandmother that day, possibly the next. Candlemas, the ancient festival, forty days after Christmas and its official end. February 3 marks my own holy day, the day my oldest joined us in the world and I crossed over into motherhood.
In labor, I walked outside in Birkenstocks and stared at the melting snow that was running in sunny trickles. Just days after she was born, a fierce cold sunk in to stay. The neighbors brought a blueberry pie. As a toddler, I called this child a wildcat. Now, all grown up, she’s still a cat, with a cat’s complexities — half-feral and blissfully domestic, fierce-clawed and loving.
With worry edging her voice, the stranger told me she expected her family’s birth to be healthy. These usually go well, she noted. I agreed, and we walked out together. The wind carried dry snow over the parking lot. She disappeared in her car, but I stood for a moment longer, remembering my daughter was born shortly before midnight. My long labor ended with a surgeon who held my vernix-smeared baby in his gloved hands so I could see her. Her eyes were wide open, and she looked directly at me.
— Lucille Clifton
you a wonder.
you a city
of a woman.
you got a geography
of your own.
17 years ago, I was at the end of my second pregnancy. The apple blossoms hadn’t bloomed yet. The month of May had been especially rainy and cold.
My second child was born via caesarian. The morning she was born, I walked down to our sugarhouse and closed the front doors we had left open the night before. My oldest daughter who was six was eating breakfast at the house with her father. She was wild with excitement. Baby sister? Baby brother? What was going to happen?
Rain had fallen the night before, and the path to the sugarhouse was slick. I was huge, an unwieldy ball of a woman who was so ready to finish this pregnancy and meet this baby. I had waited years to have this second child. It was early in the morning, and friends were already on their way to meet us at the hospital. I lingered in the open front doors, breathing in the scent of mud and that particular sweetness of new leaves. We’re always leaving and arriving, aren’t we, in this transient life. This year, the lilacs have already faded, the earliest I remember.
I stood there just a few moments before I locked the door and took the longer path back to the house. My six-year-old was in the driveway looking for me. Ready.
All day on my oldest daughter’s birthday, I remember that this was the day I became a mother. The day is imbued with a rosy holiness, transforming the everyday world of mundane things — a laundry basket, a cheese grater, a dutch oven — into pieces of our miraculous life. Parenting is a long, long road — there’s no doubt about that — the world would be unimaginable without this road.
At the end of a very long labor with this baby, I saw myself descending deeper and deeper into a dark, stone-lined well, my arm outstretched, reaching for my baby who I knew was somewhere down at the well’s bottom.
This child was born at the very end of the 20th century, in contemporary Vermont. Modern medicine made her life possible, and certainly saved my own, too. Every year, when I’m grateful for this young woman’s life, I remember the strangers who brought her into the world.
Here’s the thing about being pregnant: you just don’t know. Forty weeks, give or take a few (generally), is a long time to wonder, who’s this little baby, anyway?
When my first daughter was born — after a long labor that eventually terminated in a caesarian — the obstetrician held her up in his gloved hands. My first reaction was immediate familiarity: I knew this baby. And that was just the beginning of World with Molly.
From the beginning — with birth’s blood — raising kids often seems like surprise after surprise: oh, you can nurse? you can walk? you can ride a bicycle? make me laugh? make me stay awake all night, worrying about you?
If parenting has taught me one thing, it’s how precious little I know — save, perhaps, the world is unimaginable without our kids.
Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.
— James Joyce, Portrait of an Artist
Twenty years ago, I labored to bring my daughter into this world.
Childbirth parts the scrim over our mundane lives, parts the clouds of our everydayness. Childbirth is just so much. The day descended into darkness, and yet I labored, the one work I absolutely had to do. The end of that labor carried me into darkness, into shivering cold, into fear, ferrying me beyond language.
A roomful of strangers in the middle of night saved my baby’s life, and likely saved my own. I was given—gratis, not a single string attached—utter joy when countless women in other times and places met agony.
The everyday world washed back into my life—as it must for all of us. The stuff of our working lives is made of mother’s milk, chopping leeks for soup, tending our hearths. But each day is imbued with the holiness of a birthing day for mothers. Our lives may tarnish this radiance in our lives, but it’s there yet, unbreakable by human hands.
All human life on the planet is born of woman. The one unifying, incontrovertible experience shared by all women and men is that months-long period we spent unfolding inside a woman’s body.
— Adrienne Rich
Twenty years ago, I was about to cross over into motherhood. I was incredibly curious to see my baby’s face, to meet this brand-new person who had been growing and swimming within me for nine months. Eventually, she was born via an emergency caesarian. On the table, my first flooding impulse, when the surgeon held up my baby in his gloved hands for me to see—even before the flooding relief that she was born healthy and well— was I know you. Her eyes were wide open. Across that cold and noisy operating room, she stared directly at me.
Twenty years later, so much living has gone down between us. Playdough and Charlotte’s Web, a million meals, diapers to driving, broken hearts and happiness: the stuff of life.