Happy Birthday to Me.

Thirty-two years ago right now (9:25 pm) I know where I was and what I was doing.

I was swearing out loud, about to smack my husband up side of the head, and not yet experiencing any “joy” in parenthood.

I was in my 28th hour of labor, soon to deliver a baby we never thought we would have and fought hard to conceive.

I was so fed up with the situation at 10:24 pm I heard my husband say something very un-father like , “Holy Shit”, as I delivered our daughter with half a push at the speed of a bullet…well, almost. The doctor didn’t even catch her she came out so fast, she landed like a wet fish in a silver bowl the nurse quickly stuck under my airborne infant (well, she was..something was hurling and it wasn’t me.)

I did not feel the immediate maternal bonding that you read about or hear about. I was hungry. Starving. It had been about 30 hours since I last ate, except for the bag of jujubes that my husband snuck in early in my labor, and revealed themselves a few hours later in that kidney shaped blue bowl that I couldn’t hide fast enough before being busted by the nurse. This nurse wore the traditional outfit of nurses back in World War Two days, or maybe the 60’s, white uniform, white stockings, white shoes, nurses cap. She was intimidating. Even more so when she smacked me on the leg after I started losing it during that horrific stage called transition. I still remember her telling me I was going to be a mother soon, start acting like it.

My husband had a look of pure terror in his eyes, I think expecting me to do the exorcist head spin at that moment.

So after the projectile delivery and a cheese sandwich from one of the nurses lunches, I embarked on my journey of mother hood.

I had not really been around babies before I had one of my own.

After a few hours sleep I embraced the role and my daughter and spent many hours rocking her, studying her, thinking about what the future might hold. I remember when I was dressing her for the trip home, my hands were shaking and I told her I was going to try my best, and asked her to be patient with me because I really wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing. She just stared into my eyes and I think we understood each other.

There were six more babies after her, some born from my body, some adopted. The journey in life is never predictable. Each birth was very different, each child unique, but all loved and cherished.

I consider that date, June 18, 1984 as the day my life officially began. I have been somebody’s mother for over half my life. It is a privilege, a pain in the ass, a blessing, a curse, a joy, a heartache, easy, hard, rewarding, taxing, lonely, crowded, and definitely changes you as a person, more than one time, as the years go on.

My oldest child is now married, a mother, and is not in my life.

It is a loss that is too heart crushing to talk about.

A loss that has taken a long time to come to terms with.

A loss that has scarred my soul.

There is no greater burden than grieving for your child who is still alive, but whose heart beats for others but not for you.

It is pure, authentic loss. The loss of grandchildren, and for my other children, the loss of a sibling, for my mother, the loss of a grandchild and great grandchildren. We walk around with the overwhelming emptiness of the absence while carrying the heaviness of their irreplaceable memory.

Estrangement is a hidden epidemic. Studies show that if you ask ten people about their family relationships, at least five will report an estrangement.

And sometimes against all odds and all logic we still hope.

When she was small, it was the happiest time of my life. I was so privileged to share those moments of her proud achievements, her embarrassing mistakes, her moments of growing in every way, exciting to be there for her discoveries, her victories, to be her advocate, her sidekick, to look at her when she didn’t know it, and think “How could I have made something so perfect?” What I experienced as her mum, such sublime joy.

I am not perfect; there’s no such thing as a normal family. We do our best in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

I even warned her about this when she was five days old and I was afraid the zipper I was closing on her bunting bag might pinch her skin, I was afraid I would not feed her enough, or not hear her at night when she cried, I was afraid I would forget I had her (ok, well, let’s not talk about the one evening we actually forgot her in the house as we got into the car to go to the movies. No harm done except to my sense of accomplishment as a mother!)

The reason I write this…birthday/eulogy on this her 32nd birthday, and make it funny, laughter through tears, is because that is what this child brought to my life. And how I appreciated it. She was my calm in many storms. She was the Lucy to my Ethel. She was my first egg, and a damned fine one at that! I miss her terribly. I miss the opportunities now and in the future to tell my grandchildren about their mother. About how she loved to sing, even though she couldn’t, what a ham she was in the front of the movie camera, how she loved to give fashion commentaries about her teachers, how she was madly in love with her Grade six teacher and used to practice writing her “married” signature, all her “ism’s” and I remember almost every one of them, our mutual love of the movies, her fabulous birthday parties we used to have, she shined at school, when she walked into a room she brought a lightening rod with her, what a wonderful older sister she was to her special needs sister (oh how she misses her big sister and niece). Her children will never know their aunts and uncles on my side, their new two year old cousin and other cousins who will soon arrive, their great grandmother whose last years will be spent without them, not photographs to cherish later or to share that heritage with their children a quarter of a century from now.

How I wish God could have played a movie in my mind the day I brought her home from the hospital. If He had given me the gift of hindsight maybe she would still be with me, maybe she would still love me, maybe she would be like other daughters of other mothers and be there to share the road ahead.

Maybe if I had known I would not have her in my life as long as I had thought, from her cradle to my grave, I would have not pushed so hard in that delivery room, keeping her inside me, under my heart, for as long as possible.

As I finish this, and will publish it in its first draft, (because she was my first draft!) it is one minute to the time, exactly thirty-two years ago when this precious spirit entered my life. She is happy. She is a good mother. She has people she loves.

One day maybe she will come back.

In the meantime I am buoyed by her siblings, my fabulous children who keep my heart alive, her grandmother, and the memories I have of the first 28 years being her mum. I cherish them, as I will always cherish her.

I have been a mother for 32 years and 1 minute, and counting.