I have always wanted to be a mother. I remember playing with baby dolls and doting over them as so many little girls do. I had a rainbow brood of blond haired babies and brown skinned babies and I called them all my children. Even as I got older, I knew I wanted to have children, even though I wasn’t convinced that I would ever find a life partner to parent with me. Thankfully, I was able to find the best partner in the world. My man is a wonderful husband and an excellent father.
John and I were thrilled to find out that we were pregnant. Well, I was thrilled. John was remarkably stoic about the whole situation when I told him. Actually, he was pretty even keeled about my pregnancy for a while, and I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. He is, by nature, an introvert. It’s taken me years to understand how a noisy woman like me, from a noisy family, ended up making a family with an inherently quiet man from a family that can only be described as reticent. For whatever reasons he may have had, John chose me, crazy noisy family and all. Together he and I created our two beautiful children and our journey as parents began.
By the way, John finally came around when I showed him the baby clothes I’d bought during the first eight or so weeks of my pregnancy (I was passing that Baby Gap anyway — so sue me…). There was a onesie and a little cap, but it was the package of tiny socks that struck John. He saw the socks and started to tear up. “We’re going to have a baby, and that baby’s going to have tiny little feet that will fit into these tiny little socks.” The reality hit him hard, but he was happy.
My early pregnancy was distinguished by one odd change in my appetite. I had never liked eggs much, except for deviled eggs. Before I knew I was pregnant, I decided one day to make deviled eggs. I called John to let him know, and he was thrilled (he loves my deviled eggs!). I used a dozen eggs, thus making 24 deviled eggs. When John arrived home there were 3 left. I felt so bad that I’d eaten so many and left John so few, that I told him I’d make more the next day. I went out and bought 18 eggs and came home to make the deviled eggs I’d promised. When John arrived home, he saw the 6 deviled eggs I hadn’t eaten. Later that week, John and I went to brunch after church. I ordered an omelette. John’s words were simple: “who are you and what have you done with Lisa?” I was as shocked as he was.
Somewhere in my 7th week, I got sick. Really sick. Ridiculously sick. I mean wall to wall, non-stop vomit sick. It lasted for 7 weeks and I lost 10 pounds. I was scared to death that my weight loss would harm my baby. I felt for the first time a feeling that I’ve become extremely familiar with. I felt helpless. There was absolutely nothing I could do but pray and wait for my body to set itself right. Eventually it did and all was well.
After our daughter was born, she had some jaundice and the doctor considered putting her in the hospital. Once again, that feeling of helplessness set in. It would come back many times over the years with her and then again with our son who was born five years later. The feeling would come every time my child was ill, or faced some adversity I could neither prevent nor control. Sometimes I felt only a little helpless. Then there were times when I felt it so much I feared my heart would break apart inside my chest.
One such day was some time in June of 2006 when our 3 year old son was diagnosed with ASD. I’ve said many times in the past, I felt like someone dropped an entire house on my head that day. I had no idea what was ahead of us and what life for my beautiful boy would be like. The helplessness John and I felt nearly ended our marriage because we retreated into our default modes: he fell into a painful silence and I went into full mama tiger mode. We pulled in two different directions because we did not know how to get out of ourselves and pull together. The two people who had come together against great odds and in the face of outright hostility were being torn apart because we couldn’t face our fear and anger about what was happening to our son. We were helpless to do anything for him or ourselves. The outcome looked rather bleak.
We overcame the helplessness eventually and began to repair the rift between us. It took time and there was a lot of painful growing to do, but we are still together and we are still working to help our boy be the best he can be. Everyday we encounter a situation with the kids that challenges us. There are tears we cannot stop and friendships we cannot mend. Sometimes we can only sit back and watch the pain we cannot stop come barreling in on our beloved babies. We know they must learn their own lessons, no matter how painful they might be. But, we cannot deny that we feel their pain and long to end it. We hurt when they hurt and cry 10 tears for every one of theirs. Their anguish is a dagger in our hearts. We do everything we can and then… we wait for the events to unfold.
When folks talk about children separating from their parents, they usually refer to how difficult it is for the child. John and I have had to separate ourselves from our kids just as all parents should, and it has been tremendously difficult for me sometimes. I want to know what will happen to my babies — and they will always be my babies — and I want to help them every step along the way. Of course, I know this can’t happen. They have to learn to walk their own paths and live their own lives, and maybe have their own families. I can’t get in the way of that any more than I would have wanted my parents to get in my way. In the face of the dizzying helplessness I feel, I have to let go and trust that John and I have done our job. We have to stand together and watch them walk away into their future — without us.
I will feel helpless many more times before that day comes.
They came into the world through me, but they do not belong to me. They aren’t mine; they are their own. As long as I love them, I have to accept the helplessness as an unpleasant by-product. With the great love and deep devotion of having a family comes pain and sadness to balance out the joy. One takes the bitter with the sweet.
Almost 17 years after our baby girl came into our lives, I have no regrets and I wouldn’t change a thing. Whatever challenges may come, I am the best mom for my babies and I will be there for them no matter how helpless being their mom might make me feel. It’s an honor to learn from parenting them. I think John just might agree with me.