Sunday, May 11, 2014
Today is your first Mother's Day here at home with us, but it is not the first Mother's Day that Rani has been your mother. You see, I don't define motherhood as simply having produced a child. In my opinion, something as important as motherhood can't simply come about by accident. A mother becomes a mother by virtue of her deeds for her children. Like all good things, motherhood is created by exertion, and by that standard your mother has been your mother for a long time. To her, there was no thing that she could do for you that was too small or too trivial.
Those deeds began while your mother and I were in high school and we decided that we wanted children. She was very serious about planning for your future and honing her patience. She carefully cataloged the things that we would do with you and whenever we witnessed something beautiful, she would bookmark that moment in her mind so that one day she could recreate it for you. Every bit of interesting knowledge was a thing to one day be passed on.
As time went on, she experienced great pain and discomfort for your sake, as well. She underwent numerous surgeries to preserve her womb and ovaries. Surgeries, as severe as a c-section, that often left her crippled for weeks.
But it wasn't enough just to have some doctor operate on her body for your sake. She transformed her lifestyle for years to nourish all of the prospective eggs that might one day be you. She started a garden to have fresh vegetables, targeting specific items filled with folic acid and beneficial vitamins. She would spend 12 hours at work, then jog miles and miles late into the night to stay in shape. She was vigilantly avoiding anything that might be construed as a toxin. She took prenatal vitamins for years and years and years... just in case any particular month might be the month that you'd be conceived. In her mind, it wasn't enough for her to just MAKE you. She needed to give you the highest probability of health and success.
When she lost her Fallopian tubes and couldn't become pregnant by natural means, she forfeited all of the luxuries that money could buy so that she could afford the most expensive fertility treatment. She never vacationed and never spent money on frivolous things. As part of her treatment, she willingly stabbed herself in the stomach with a half dozen needles each night to induce egg follicle growth. At times, her stomach was so bruised we ran out of places to put a needle. Some of the drugs, which so few IVF patients ever need to use, even caused her skin to blister around the injection site, as though she'd been stuck with a branding iron.
She was endlessly cautious when you were inside of her. When she went on bed rest, she took no chances and spent weeks "upside down" and in that time never even took a trip to the bathroom. She fought every premature contraction, her insides boiling from medicine to prevent her from delivering. At times she even lay in pools of her own blood. And most remarkably, she fought every feeling of despair and fought every tear, even while knowing that you would certainly come early into this world and perish. She knew that weeping might rupture or damage the exposed and bulging membranes of your uterine sac. At night, while on bed rest, she'd bite her pillow and hold her breath so as to hold back a thousand tears.
When you were born, everyone was skeptical that your mother would produce any milk because she wasn't supposed to for another four months, but that didn't stop her. Even though breast milk is incredibly important for micro-preemies, most women with extremely premature babies fail to produce any. Many of them are too depressed or too tired or simply don't have the fortitude. I can't tell you how many women I saw in the NICU simply give up on the effort. But your mother--- racked by severe stress, sleep deprivation, a cesarean infection, and a raging fever--- awoke every two hours to pump milk for you. She couldn't visit you while she was feverish, so she played Youtube videos of babies to stimulate her hormones. At first, there was nothing, and that's usually when so many women just give up. Rani, on the other hand, doubled her efforts. She started a spreadsheet to chart her progress and hone her production. When the milk did start flowing, she subdivided her milk into different bottles to make sure you got the ones with higher fat content. When it came time to feed you by mouth, your mother relinquished the intimacy of direct breast feeding part of the time for the precision of bottle feeding, so that she could be sure you were getting all of the nourishment that you needed.
While you were in the NICU, she even did a thing that no other woman was willing to do. A thing that told me, more than anything, that she was the most worthy of mothers: she refused to indulge in her maternal instincts if it meant they would harm you. In the weeks after you were born, to touch you was to hurt you. It could rake your skin or create brain bleeds or cause you pain, but the other women with micro-preemies all indulged in this most fundamental rite, even when it was bad for their child. But your mother? She stood by your isolette for weeks without touching you, day in and day out, all the while yearning to stroke your head and hold your hand. She'd spent years fighting for the moment she could hold you in her arms, and even though you were right there in front of her, she chose to submerge her maternal impulses, all the while unaware of whether you would live or die. Unaware of whether she was giving up her only chance to hold you, alive.
People often marvel at how lucky they think you were to have endured your extreme prematurity so well when so many of your other NICU neighbors didn't. From my perspective, though, it had very little to do with luck. It had to do with motherhood.