I never enjoyed being pregnant, which felt like a betrayal of sorts. Maybe it was the RH Factor, discovered around the fifth month of my first pregnancy. My negative blood type was not compatible with the baby’s positive blood type. Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s VIII’s first wife, who only gave him one living child faced the same problem. It was NOT the son and heir Henry needed to ensure the royal line, and each subsequent child was stillborn, rejected by her own body. Fortunately for my children, they were born in the era of RhoGAM shots, delivered straight to my butt, a mixer that prevented my body from rejecting them as foreign invaders. This was my introduction to motherhood.
I found out I was pregnant by falling down the stairs. Pregnancy does mess with your balance, it’s true. I was always thin and fairly athletic, so it felt like suddenly I was inhabiting an alien body, off-kilter and even hungrier the The Very Hungry Caterpillar. After the baby was born, a complicated delivery that was early and involved Toxemia, I still felt shock that my body didn’t seem to belong to me anymore. I had taken this agency over my body for granted. That beautiful baby, born looking like Snow White’s doppelgänger, is now almost 22. She recently texted me a picture of her dinner (roasted salmon and a beautiful salad) and my husband said to me….. “You are such a good momma.” and I said “Because she made a good dinner?” and he said “Yes! Do you know any other 22-year-olds who make healthy dinners from scratch and a salad as beautiful as that?” Nope, I don’t.
Motherhood has never been what I expected and maybe it was a bit romanticized in my head. But in my defense, waking up in a pile of every bodily fluid imaginable on a regular basis, was a shock to the system. Lately I’ve heard “Remember that time when we were out together and your clothes were soaked in breastmilk?” Yeah…. that’s a memory I had actually managed to forget. A moment where my brain did right by me. After having babies, my body never really felt like my body…. a condition that has the side effect of forgetting to close the bathroom door, causing your kids to scream. Eventually I realized that the flab that I didn’t recognize around my stomach was where the babies came from…. at least at first.
By the third baby I wised up. It was however, quite a lot of paperwork. She is a spunky 10-year-old that might feel like I didn’t work as hard to get her, or that she doesn’t belong to me because her skin is dark, and I am fair. I didn’t incubate her in my body, even though she is endlessly fascinated by it, probably because she didn’t live there and charge me rent demanding all the calcium and iron I could possibly manufacture.
She has a right to know her origin story. Mostly because it is uniquely hers and the question of “How was I born?” comes up a lot. She used to go around saying “I was born in an ambulance….!” which is true, and does appeal to this child, as if she has superhero beginnings. We called her Genie, The Magic Baby for a long time because we were ALL wondering where she came from, and how did she get here?
One day, my aunt called me and told me her daughter was pregnant. Eight months pregnant, and that daughter would not be able to raise the baby. My aunt was sick with lung cancer and in a wheelchair at that time. She simply said, “Will you take it? You have a good family.” I walked around in a shocked daze for a couple of weeks and the next thing I knew the baby had been born (in an ambulance!) and was in a hurry to be in this world. She was in the NICU because she was so tiny and went straight to emergency foster care.
It was not like the other babies that pillaged my vitamins and minerals and were incompatible with their host. This baby was already made! My husband said simply, “Babies need homes.” And that was it, the decision was made.
A few months later, with my mom by my side, and my aunt in her wheelchair, I showed up to a hearing room in Oakland, California. I sat in a room with so many people who had an interest in where this baby ended up: aunties and cousins, people I didn’t recognize, the foster mom who had cared for her for five months, social workers, and my husband dialed in conference on the phone. The one person who was not there, was the attorney who represented the interests of the baby. I don’t know what I expected to happen that day. The extended family argued that the baby would help the biological mother get her act together (they stated for the record they did not want the baby to be raised by a white family) and the biological mother would recover and care for it. They would take the baby, and pass her around inside the family, until that happened. The foster mom, who had provided the most loving home for the baby, also wanted to adopt, but the extended family was against that solution. The whole situation was chaotic.
It was not an easy day. I stood up in a room full of angry people and said, “Is it true that none of you will commit to adopting this baby permanently? If you think you can pass her around, and then call me when she is two or three years old, you are wrong. I will not take her after your failed experiment. I will not take her once she has an attachment disorder, has not bonded with anyone in particular, and is messed up for life. I will take her now, or I will take her never.”
The State of California decided to place the baby with me and my family. My cousin, the biological mother, told me later she was happy with the outcome of the hearing. That moment, when she leaned on my shoulder and cried and said she couldn’t do it, that was the moment when this baby was born to me, a moment of clarity and understanding between us mothers. The gift I could give my cousin was peace of mind and I would do my best.
Some babies require quite a lot of paperwork, some babies incubate, but the outcome is the same and ultimately they all just need a home. I think now I DO know where babies come from, and the next time she asks I’ll just say, “California.”
© copyright Mariam d’Eustachio at Simply Turquoise 2022.