The Voice

It’s Mother’s Day and I find myself thinking about being a mom. I became a mom almost exactly two years ago; my daughter’s birthday is in a couple weeks. Motherhood can take many forms — from the traditional, to extended family stepping in, to adoption, and more — and it can start in a lot of ways. For me, it started with a grueling, weekend’s long labor — a place not unfamiliar to many moms. But something happened to me that weekend, besides becoming a mom. (And that in itself would be pretty mind-shifting enough.) That weekend I found my voice.

My 37-hour labor started on a Friday night and it was hard going, even for a first-timer. I had three epidurals, each one failing. I remember feeling a sense of terror beyond panic, beyond all rational thought, at the pain, which was only heightened by the anxiety of the medical staff as things continued to negatively progress. My daughter was transverse — sideways — and in the end they had to do an emergency c-section to pull her out because she was going into distress and things were getting dicey for me, too.

In the birthing room, we had hung a photo of my grandmother, who as an OB nurse at the hospital where I was born helped deliver me into this world. My grandmother, now passed, was one of the strongest, toughest women I ever knew. She was a ball-buster with a big heart. And she was a woman who had a tendency for getting in trouble for having a big mouth and big opinions. (Sound familiar?) She always had a special tenderness with me as a child. I think it was because she was there the moment I first opened my mouth and hollered at the world.

By the end of my labor, it was clear that surgery was the only way and the only thing holding that up was the doctor, who was at another hospital doing another c-section. So, the nurses — God bless them — did everything they could to comfort me and keep me calm while we waited. One even bullied the anesthesiologist into giving me more pain meds even though I’d eventually get a spinal block for the c-section. I definitely felt the spirit of my grandmother in that room full of bossy, loving nurses — almost all of whom were women!

But even though some sliver of my rational mind could see this and process it, the rest had gone primal. When someone would ask me a question, I would think of a response but when I opened my mouth the only thing that would come out were blood-curdling screams. It was like scream diarrhea-of-the-mouth! My husband would say things to me and I would open my mouth and nothing but screams would come out. I could hear people in the hallway wondering aloud if everything was okay in my room. (What they didn’t know was that I came from a long line of screamers. There is a story about my mother screaming so loud when she was in labor with my brother that people came running from another wing of the hospital.)

So I stopped trying to talk. As I laid back and waited for the doctor to come, I just let the screams wash over me. It was my only relief from the contractions that were on top of each other and the white-hot lava of baby-skull ramming into my left hipbone (she was determined that was an exit!). My body was ready to have this baby. Everyone in the room was ready to have this baby. And that baby was trying with all her might to be born! The only thing I could do was wait and scream. And patience has never been my strong suit.

As I laid there, I could feel the muscles in my abdomen trying to push the baby out, even without me trying. I could hear all the noise of all the machines and the people running in and out of the room. I watched my husband’s mouth say words that I could not hear over the sound of my own screams — my own voice coming at full blast.

Then I just felt quiet and still for a brief moment. I just had this sense that it was going to be alright. And I knew it would be over soon. Just then, a nurse ran down the hallway and shouted into the room, “He’s here! He’s here! Let’s roll!” And with that, we flew like the wind to surgery and 20 minutes later I heard the daughter scream at the world and my husband stroked my hair and said, “Hear that? You’re a mother.”

And right away, I had to act like a mother and take care of my child, who had to go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for five days. My husband was gone (the one time he stepped out to get food or do anything for himself in days!), when the doctors came to talk to me about the treatment necessary to prevent brain damage (and possibly death). My first day on the job, I had to make decisions that would affect my daughter’s life, maybe forever. And I surprised myself with the measure of calm and strength I found in my voice. The doctors, who had looked pensive at the prospect of talking to a woman by herself who had just gone through childbirth, actually appeared to relax in a way when they saw how evenly I handled the situation. I didn’t break down (until after they left). I didn’t waffle. There was no room for doubt. It was time to be strong. My daughter needed me!

Thankfully, two years later my daughter is healthy and happy and has an amazing spirit. (Even in the NICU the nurses commented about how she was stubborn and strong. A bad-ass at day one!) But it’s taken me some time — I guess two years, give or take — to process how profoundly my life has changed. Becoming a parent is transformational, if you want it to be. But even more than that, I feel like the weekend I went through childbirth was a kind of rebirth for me. It was the first time I could ever remember where I could use the full power of my voice — even if it was screams — and no one would stop me. As a survivor of sexual abuse — which relies so much on secrecy and someone silencing your voice — I don’t know if I ever felt like I could just be loud, be screaming, have a big voice without negative consequences.

My voice is silenced no more!

And that’s a good thing, as I raise a girl to become a strong, confident woman with her own voice in a world that will try to silence her with patriarchy and sexism and politics that try to take away her autonomy. I hope if the day ever comes that my daughter is becoming a mother, that I can be one of the images in her mind that helps her stay strong and true to her voice and her power.

My Mother’s Day wish for you is that you find and use your strong voice. I don’t think it has to come from a childbirth experience or even a dramatic experience. But if you haven’t found that experience, yet, seek it out! Don’t waste another day living a life where you don’t speak with your full voice.

It’s kind of like the old adage: Walk softly but carry a big stick.

Except, in this case, I think it’s: Whether you speak softly or loudly, always use your full voice.

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