“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
My son is a prophet.
The stories and emotions other women share about being a first time mother, were, honestly, something I have never felt access too. When I was 19, I got married. And having being taught that the use of birth control was a sin and that time alone with your spouse in early marriage only served to develop selfishness, my equally young husband and I, with not yet fully developed frontal lobes, trusted the words of church elders and betters and arrived back from our honeymoon with a baby on the way.
There is both blessing and grief. I know he is the son of my naiveté and youth, and that he is the strength of my life. I know this choice of mine began to make a road in the wilderness out of the bondage of legalism. Yet, I still mourn for his loss as well as mine. So tiny and small, my body bled from outside in and I will bear the countless scars of carrying him until I die. The loss of a naked beauty I will never know, with a change in life that came too quickly. And he, the first baby of a baby, did not receive space for his own emotion: sleep trained, stay on the blanket, be quiet, two-hour long church services, and expectations of spanking. Voiceless both, we have suffered, alone.
When I was pregnant, I attended a party intended for peers, but as the only one wed and with child did not know how to fit. I covered myself with self deprecating humor; surviving a game of leapfrog by bemoaning my nascent form. I attempted to claim advantage in play for effort. The next day, at church, this hostess took me aside to correct my attempts with phrases like, “flaunting your pregnancy”, “demanding attention”, and “have no thought for the emotions of others.” Granted, the community had experienced a stillbirth months prior (and I then with a small bump had already struggled with how to hold a child, and another’s grief), but apparently I was also responsible for a twelve year old who, “had awoken crying from a dream that she was not yet married and having a baby.” Thus I was “insensitive to what I had that others wanted.” My uncontrolled pregnancy apparently implied control over much I was unaware was mine to bear.
I went home.
And sobbed for hours. Husband held me as best he could.
Something inside me broke. Is still broken.
I don’t blame. I used to, but trauma has been passed on and on and on, everywhere. I can only own what parts are mine and leave others who don’t, to be.
But I did lose. Evil won, and using the consistency of the reproof prescribed by ‘God-given’ authorities in my life it didn’t miss the opportunity to impart.
To my young mind that was constantly told I never knew better than older women or elder men, this is what I learned: I was wrong to delight in myself or child. I was not worth being delighted in. I was not worthy of being rejoiced with. I was wrong to speak of my body. I was shamed for having its form. I was responsible for the emotions of others. I was to blame for their triggers. I was a lost cause who couldn’t see the effect of her presence in a room. I was too much on the outside and not enough on the inside.
I wanted the grief to swallow me whole that day and the next and the next and the next; I felt like it would. I couldn’t carry the weight of my own existence, much less the creation of another life.
It’s no wonder to me that I labored a week for him with sleepless nights of contractions that made my stretch marks bleed climaxing in 90 minutes of transition then transported to a hospital with tearing that needed so many stitches they stopped being counted.
That’s a brief accounting of the story of my first baby. He’s now seven, going on eight. The number that signifies endings giving way to the number of new beginnings. He trails our anniversary year by nine months. It has been a time of great and heartbreaking endings, but I’ve still been waiting for the new to begin.
Tonight. My first baby is reading: Babe. He has space and voice now, like his momma. He has grief and anger now, like his momma. It’s hard to give space, to see the heart of someone in the moments of frustration or glum—to see it without eating it, to just be present. Sometimes I say no, sometimes I don’t, sometimes he responds, and sometimes he doesn’t. I accept. He doesn’t smile a whole lot, but then again, neither do I. Life has been hard, and that’s okay for our faces to show.
He’s now outside the inside of my body. His outside is a wonder my insides were not allowed to enjoy. I still wrestle to heal that broken heart of a young girl who has to fight for the right to delight in her son. I still do not understand this part of my story.
But tonight, the boy comes over with his story and climbs into my lap. Brave enough to take space to ‘interrupt’ my conversation. We both know this is important.
“Do you know what I’m reading?’ He asks.
“Yeah. Babe.” I reply
“It’s so funny. He’s just told everyone he’s a sheep-pig.”
“That is funny. And brave, don’t you think?” I add.
“What do you think about how it feels to be something that it looks like you’re not, especially when other people say what you are?” The question spills out of me and I realize I do not know the answer.
“People are like one thing on the outside and everything on the inside.” He replies after a moment. I’m in awe.
He continues on, referring to my spirit animal as knowing part of my insides, and we laugh at the revelation as he shares he has discovered his.
When at last he arrives at what he intended to tell me—I am caught, again, off guard.
“You’re like Fly.”
I don’t know what to say and we sit together in the sacred quiet. In the story of Babe, Babe is a pig and Fly is sheep-dog. It is she who first sees and believes in Babe’s abilities and dreams to become a sheep herding pig (a sheep-pig). She fights for his place to become who he was made to be. Even though the farmer has sold all her puppies, she takes Babe under her care and lets her call him mom. Fly knows who she is, and sees past the politics of the farm animals, the jealousy of her own kind, and the unbelief of the master; enduring, believing, and delighting in Babe’s dream.
“Do you feel like I believe in your insides and not what your outsides say?” I offer with caution to this boy of mine that rarely smiles.
Then, just like that he hops down to finish the chapter. And just like that, we both have new names that we love from this boy who sees the inside. And just like that a piece of the broken place that made us both something we were not, from the space we took up together outside, is restored within. There’s more to his story and mine, now, to write.
And, just for this moment, the weight of grief lifts enough that my oh-so-weary, girl-of-a-momma’s heart feels like it could, well…
“But they that wait…”