I started really falling in love with my child when I was about 17 weeks pregnant. I don't know if that's early or late but it was around the time when I first saw him on an ultrasound and he actually looked like a tiny human, not a tumor. Some time after falling in love some things in my DNA started to change. I was not born with feeling of protectiveness or nurturing, these things developed in me in the same way a baby developed in me. It must be a hormone thing, only the hormones have changed and/or diminished and I am left permanently changed. My chemical makeup is forever and permanently altered.
One of the effects of this change dictates what kinds of news articles, books and movies I can now tolerate, and what media I cannot tolerate. I know some of you know what I mean so I'm going to try to be as UN-graphic as possible, but this really needs to be said so bear with me.
Around 20 weeks pregnancy I read an article in the newspaper about a woman who was being investigated after her 2 month old infant child was discovered to have died as a result of being put in a microwave. (I'm sorry for the detail.) My level of horror and disgust and grief was so huge it surprised me. Of course any normal human being would read this with outrage and horror but something was VERY different about this level and brand of horror I felt. It was so way over the top. I took it personally and I felt physical pain, felt it for days.
When my son was born I spent a lot of time worrying as many first time new parents do. My worries and fears however became so huge that I had to work very hard to re-train my thought process. I tried to take advantage of the time I spent nursing and use it to get ahold of my thoughts, use it to meditate and let go of the fears. I think having a child can be one of the most vulnerable experiences ever. And I'm not just talking about the labor and birth experience, I'm talking about every moment that comes after that as well. I found a lot of things to be afraid of: death, being left alone, not having the answers, more death. So yeah, I put a lot of effort into transforming my thought process, which for a while was like a runaway train.
Then when my son was about 5 months old I read another article that was the straw that broke the camel's back. This time it was a feature written about a normal, loving mother who accidentally left her child in her carseat and went to work for the day. In the summer. (Again, I'm sorry for the detail - bear with me, if you're anything like me you can take this and it might be worth it.) It doesn't happen very often but it happens enough for there to actually be a campaign every year in hot southern states to remind people that it is a danger. Apparently there is a perfect storm of circumstances: sleep deprivation, stress at work, a change in the routine of who takes the child to daycare, and the child falling asleep on the drive all work together to make a dangerous situation.
Let me tell you how I lost it after I read this story. I was a wreck for days. DAYS. I don't know about you, but when I read something like that all I can think is "what would I do if that happened to me." So far I have not been able to envision a scenario where I would survive a situation like that. Hey, just being honest. After I read this story it finally dawned on me that my DNA had been altered and I was no longer the person who could tolerate exposure to just any kind of story, image, media, idea. There is in fact an entire genre or two off limits to me now, completely and quite possibly forever. I vowed to very carefully vet every title/headline I come across and to outright refuse anything that even remotely appears to be about children being hurt or mothers being shredded by grief.
I found that, for the most part, I have very little trouble avoiding this kind of media and experience very little temptation to rubberneck. The stories have affected me too profoundly. I have no wish to empathize with that kind of pain. I simply move on and look for something else, anything else to read.
Friends have recommended many excellent books that I will never read. Really good documentaries like Paradise Lost (which I thought was going to be more about the West Memphis 3) were deleted from the DVR half watched because suddenly images from the crime scene appeared on my TV screen.
THIS SHIT IS EVERYWHERE and let me reiterate: I have no wish to empathize with that kind of pain. It's way, way, WAY too big.
Then when my son was about 20 months I heard about a friend of mine who went into very early labor (about 3 months early I believe). Her daughter only lived for a few days. I read through letters posted on a website a little of what that process of grieving was like for her. I sent her a note at that time in an awkward attempt to surround her with my love but I think that kind of grief is impenetrable for a very long time. I haven't spoken to her since.
I can't believe I haven't spoken to her since, now that I've said it aloud I'm terribly ashamed of it. Perhaps I am a coward but I will say in my defense: it's too dangerous for me to empathize with that kind of pain. It just takes me nowhere good. People say "I can't imagine what you must be feeling," or "I can't imagine what you must be going through," which is so completely wrong. Wrong for me anyway. My trouble is I CAN imagine what you must be feeling and going through. I can imagine every vivd detail and it causes me an agony I cannot describe. My imagination is very developed, very adept and I can conjure every heartbreaking detail, and more…more, always MORE.
Recently someone I know on Facebook shared some piece of political schlock that was circulating, trying to become a popular meme. A portion of the image was a middle-eastern woman holding and keening over a young boy in her arms, the young boy appeared to be dead. This made me so mad that I'm actually still mad as I write about it now. It's disgustingly casual and thoughtless and destructive. I don't care how great your political statement is, you're nothing but an asshole if you would so casually and disrespectfully spread an image so horrific. I'm going to go unfriend that person right now, I should have done it weeks ago.
So let me just say right now that my son is almost 4 and this intolerance of certain subjects in media is holding just as firm as ever. I let myself slip a few days ago. The story being offered was a blog and my curiosity got the better of me. As I read the first few lines I knew what I was in for and I kept reading anyway, a fresh first hand account of a mother's final 24 hours with her five year old son who succumbed to cancer. So beautifully, bravely written. So overwhelmingly mind numbingly sad. I wept like the loss was mine. Of course.
…but then this…
There was also this. (This thing that has happened to me before.)
This very strong urge to create/cultivate life.
This, from bearing witness to the powerful grief of a Mother. It happened when I was 25 and a friend of mine passed. (Passed? Huh.) I heard about her grief through the stories that revealed the details of her death and I watched her mother grieve for an evening at a memorial. Never before had I ever wanted a child or thought that being a mother was in my future, but when I witnessed the grief of my friend's Mother I suddenly felt that I had to become a Mother. There is something in this love that is unexplainable and I saw it play out in her grief. I knew from her sadness that this love MUST, MUST be replicated. I wanted this love even in the face of its loss. This feeling was very strong in me for quite some time and it faded as the years went by and as opportunity did not arise (until later of course).
But I'm feeling it again. Is that an animal thing I wonder? It totally feels like animal instinct - a primal drive to fight death head on by creating life. Are animal instincts that emotional? I don't know. Whatever it is, I don't feel in control of it.
Luckily the day after I read that blog my son was in a very snuggly mood so I got to hold him tight and tell him how much I loved him. And he told me how much he loved me and all was right with my world for all that, and for his kisses and hugs. There is gratitude yes, of course there is. But exposure to these real life situations other people are trying to survive does not engender gratitude alone. There is gratitude and there is FEAR and there is the undercurrent of oh man please never let this be my reality. My silent prayer to the universe, "...i am not that strong don't you dare throw me something like that i will not take it i will not survive it do not take everything i hold dear don't you dare don't you dare don't you dare...". And now this too. This screaming instinct to split myself in two again. To spit life into the face of death and watch him choke on it. To beat back the darkness with fire. More fire. MORE FIRE.