This I Believe

cynthia - laguna beach, California
Entered on March 15, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
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Mom: Origin of a Species

Was it Darwin who said the female species’ primary purpose on earth was to procreate? I know too little on the topic to be called a naturalist, but I can’t deny a woman’s innate desire to have children. Somewhere inside most of us lies a switch, programming us to fall in love, to mate and to surrender to a life of sack lunch prep, missing sock expeditions and sunscreen procurement. From my earliest memories, I simply “knew” I was going to be a mom.

Which is probably why I took the news of my first pregnancy in stride. And the pending birth? Hey, I was born to do this. Even when my son was born, I was uncharacteristically calm. Don’t misunderstand me – it wasn’t a serene kind of calm. Not the “glow” you read about, associated with new motherhood. But more of a bug-eyed calm. Like a ‘when-is-this-woman-going-to-blink’ kind of calm.

My son was gorgeous, had all of his fingers and toes, looked just like me, and nursed flawlessly. The curious thing was that my “mom” switch seemed to have gone dormant. Where was this innate feeling of motherly warmth and familiarity that was supposed to cloak me like a cashmere pashmina? Who was this kid on my skin, my breast, in my arms?

Had Darwin been I would have consulted him on the emotional component to his natural selection theory. The fact that I was void of any, did that decrease my chances of “making it” as a mother?

I was put to that critical test on my son’s 40th day of life. After several days of inconsolable crying, vomiting and inability to be comforted, my son was diagnosed with a level 3 (out of 4) intraventricular hemmorage – essentially, a very bad bleed in his brain. Neither the cause nor prognosis were known, but brain surgery was recommended as imminent.

Had I summoned Mr. Darwin a second time, undoubtedly he would have shrugged, mumbling in gentleman’s tongue something about survival of the fittest. Which is how I heard things those few days – in audible blur. Faint multi-syllabic words with ambiguous medical meanings, veiled judgments on how he may have “acquired” this bleed and the ghost-like clickety-clack from the nimble hands of a neurosurgeon, examining my son’s vitals.

When suddenly my fog was seared through and parted by one simple word: “mom”.

“Mom, you’ve got a decision to make. Now.” The neurosurgeon then proceeded with a litany of pros and cons of surgery, potential outcomes with or without, case histories, the good and the bad….

Wait, did he just call me ‘mom’? I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t disappointed, how I’d envisioned this virgin word melting from my son’s lips during a momentous embrace. Or that I was even a bit offended that he couldn’t be bothered by learning my name – were there that many of us, here in this hospital, lacking any sort of distinction?

But I suppose I should be thankful. For it was at that moment I became my son’s mother. Sure, I carried him in my womb, endured a C-section and blistered breasts, but until that moment I was simply a vessel, void of the tremendous responsibility associated with such a tiny word.

So I jumped on the fast track, determined to find my “gut”, to listen to my “ maternal instincts” and, unlike many naturalists, I prayed. I prayed for my son to get better, I prayed for this to be a horrible dream I would wake up from, but mostly I prayed for the feet to fill the shoes I had so naively purchased. (All but one came true – I was, unfortunately, very much awake during the entire year-long travail.) And a long year it was – of exhaustive therapy, countless MRI’s, medicinal concoctions administered every two hours (even at night), weighing diapers after each change and doctor appointments every week. But my son healed. Miraculously. And void of any brain surgery. Today, at 4 1/2, he can walk, talk, and with the exception of an inconspicuously large head with a good haircut, he escaped the horrifying ordeal, blemish-free.

You see, being a mother is burdened by so many cliché’s, bumper stickers and t-shirts, wisdom gets diluted and mantras lost. So it may have taken me a while to recognize the common truths as they lay before me: but a mother’s love really can change the course of a life. And a son’s will can test fate.

Today, I continue to turn to Darwin’s scientific theory and apply it to my own family’s life on earth. Perhaps skewed by own interpretation, but I’ll tell anyone who asks that life can be as hairy as a primate’s, strength is the key to sustenance. and doing what comes naturally, typically, is the right thing to do.

Maybe nature did select my indoctrination into motherhood, or perhaps it was the key to my son’s survival. But if you were here, Chuck, I think you’d agree that my son and I were the fittest to be tied. Together.