Today I celebrate the birth of my firstborn as well as my recent move from California to Oregon. The first represents the birth of another human being, one who is much loved (even if from afar). The second represents my transition into a life that is now entirely mine–free from many of the constraints of gender, partner expectations, prejudices against aging, and other ridiculous impediments to peace and creativity. In this I have followed my fictional Ornamental Hermits, who in the third and fourth books, land in Oregon on the outskirts of Eugene, Oregon, to work their magic and music with the help of Elves and their ancestors, and one very persistent trickster deity. As soon as I empty a few more boxes, put a few more books on the shelve, and hang a few more pictures, I’ll be working again on the first draft of the fourth book.
But getting back to my firstborn, who is all of thirty-two as of today…
It was an easy birth, but a very difficult pregnancy. While I spent eleven weeks on strict bedrest to prevent preterm labor, I was also internally speeding on round-the-clock doses of terbutaline. Anyone who uses terbutaline in an asthma inhaler knows how jittery it can be. Back in 1989, there was no internet that I could use to research the drug so I had only the doctor’s word that the medication was safe. However it is now known to be hazardous to both birthing parent and baby, with potential for neurodevelopmental damage.
From the above article’s abstract:
Terbutaline has been among the most commonly used -adrenoreceptor (AR) agonists in the management of preterm labor. The research suggests that tocolytic terbutaline therapy carries a significant risk for the mother and the child, which can be magnified by extended exposure, sex of the fetus, and administration during critical fetal developmental periods. This paper highlights the research on terbutaline in treatment of preterm labor, along with the possible associated cognitive deficits in adolescents who were treated with terbutaline in utero.
A search of terbutaline’s use in pregnancy (via Google Scholar) yields many peer-reviewed studies of other negative associations on fetal cardiac function and maternal morbidity. There is also a controversy as to whether terbutaline is implicated as a cause of autism in the children. However as a person who is quite likely part of the “broader autism phenotype,” and who sees traits in other family members, I have mixed feelings about this.
The main point is that I spent a good part of my pregnancy on my back in bed, fearing the loss of my baby.
This period was not helped by daily phone calls from my sister, who had discovered (via a visit from the F.B.I.) that her next door rental tenant was wanted for matricide. He’d apparently murdered his mother with a pickaxe back in Pennsylvania, probably for money. I don’t know for sure, but since he was running an underground “women’s wrestling collective” called the Barbary Bobcats. (in San Francisco), had probably spent much too much money as the impresario on wrestling mats, pink and black leather furniture, video equipment, and the like. Once the man was finally apprehended, my sister (as the landlady) had the job of going through his belongings: dirty socks, new watches, vintage cookbooks, Deco endtables actually finished by my husband but purchased via one of those vintage “20th Century Moderne” stores on Market Street. These daily reports were creepy AF, and forced me to consider the possibility that any gestational parent could birth a child who might one day want to kill her/zir/them/him.
So instead of completing my modern Noe Valley pregnancy on my feet like a winner, with healthy strolls down the hill to 24th Street, Japanese Weekend maternity clothes (I’d worked there briefly and had a bunch of factory seconds to wear), and the odd craving for canned apricots with cottage cheese, I instead endured forced inactivity (only getting vertical to use the restroom) in order to preserve the life of the baby I was carrying. It was okay. It was a necessary action. I wanted that kid to survive. I only wish I’d had a body that assisted me (and the kid) rather than worked against me (and the kid). (It was during this pregnancy that I also began to experience the onset of multiple chemical sensitivity–also felt like and is a no-fun body betrayal.)
However, this day in 1989, the day that my baby was born full term (and then some) was indeed a day of Winning Big. And it was the kid’s win as much as mine. This recent Radiolab podcast on placentas, the organ created by the embryo to ensure its survival, is as enlightening as it is strangely comforting. Even through the weird haze of pregnancy hormones, and their metallic taste, I knew that the soft-focus, pastel hues of commercially sanctioned pregnancies weren’t the whole truth. Yeah, you DO become all soft and tender and blurred and that’s a damn good thing in those early post-partum weeks, when you spend your days moist and mulched by milk, blood, and sweat. You swim through the aftermath of the miracle of birth, rather than walk.
And I was stunned by my realization of the absolute bravery of a soul which launches itself into a mortal body, helpless for years at the hands of its parents and the rest of humanity. It was an act of courage taking place in our studio apartment and it would go on and on and on until the end of that soul’s present incarnation.
Holy fucking shit.
And let’s just put in a good word for those who have birthed–as it is just about the most frightening, foolishly optimistic, and potentially transcendent, fully PHYSICAL initiation around. There’s a bit of bravery there too, though gestation is often undertaken with a blithe incomprehension of the risks and rewards ahead.
With all this in mind, I’ve often wondered by mothers (and other gestational parents) are so often scorned in our sick, patriarchal, capitalist society, as well as by the children themselves (and often the co-parent). Does part of this have to do with that relentless placental battle for survival? Is there a deep, hopelessly atavistic trauma embedded in each successfully birthed human, as birth itself represents the “win” of the baby over the gestational parent whose body wanted to reject it as foriegn and other? (Honestly, listen to that podcast!)
If so, then I am fucked, and so is every other gestational parent. I see now why so many “mother goddesses” are associated with death as well as birth. And if we are not honored for our (totally unconscious) role in this first of all death/birth dances, then we are reviled or at least held at arm’s length by our offspring, who are unable to overcome that primal sense that their birthing parent’s bodies once wanted them gone, even if we spend a goodly number of years afterwards trying to nurture and protect them.
This is a lens or a perspective I turn onto my relationship with my own mother, as well as on myself as a “mother.” I wonder over it and can ultimately do nothing except to bless all involved, for we “knew not what we did.”