My eldest child turned 18 today.
Eighteen years ago, I was 22 — a child in my own right, though I thought I had the world in my pocket. Eighteen years ago, 40-odd hours of labor had humbled me. My daughter’s cry had terrified me. And I learned the truth. Eighteen years ago, I realized that I didn’t know a damn thing.
She started things off being difficult — a posterior birth, back labor and her head caught on my tailbone — until my exhaustion got the better of me. I remember begging the doctor and nurses to let me die. That’s how naive I was, in the moment. Thinking that THIS, a puny, physical pain was the very worst I’d have to endure.
Her head was terribly bruised from her time spent lodged within my pelvis. My milk didn’t bother to make an appearance. The combination of those two things led to a case of jaundice that kept her hospitalized for over a week. Words like “brain-damaged” were said where I could overhear. I didn’t sleep at all, for that first week. My ankles swelled up so much I had to cut my jeans to take them off. The panic in my mind reduced the pain in my body to nothingness.
I had read the books. I’d gone to the classes. I’d been around kids my whole life. I wasn’t prepared for what it’s like when your baby is screaming because she’s hungry and you have no milk for her. I wasn’t ready for the lactation specialist who would make me feel small, as if Mother Nature was trying to do her good works, if I’d just get out of her way. I didn’t know that that first compromise — the store-bought formula, the latex nipple that seemed to fit so perfectly between her little lips– would be the first in a long line of compromises.
She was a perfect baby. She had an infectious laugh, and sometimes she’d laugh so hard that she’d wear herself out and cry from the exhaustion. She spoke in full sentences before she walked and she walked at 9 months old. I had no idea what I was doing.
When she was a year old, she had an allergic reaction that almost killed her. Eight days in the hospital, hooked to tubes, so dehydrated that her kidneys stopped functioning. I learned a lot about compromise, that week. I made deals with God and the Devil. Anyone who was listening. I remembered labor pains with warm fondness.
When we had survived toddlerdom, we somehow made it through preschool and that first day of kindergarten, when she waved and walked away from me, beaming from ear to ear. I made it to the car before I relived labor, that day.
I blinked and she was in middle school. And boy, did I miss labor pains, then. I’d have relived a million hours of sobbing and pushing if I could compromise the words “I hate you” from her vocabulary.
Then she was in high school, and before I knew it, a boy had broken her fragile bird’s nest heart. And I was in labor again, as she sobbed until she gagged and I could do nothing to ease her growing pains.
Then I was tucking the sheets in on the bed in her dorm room. And I was driving away. And she lived under another roof, in another town. And the pains came again.
When I gave birth to that squalling, blotchy, thick-haired girl, I didn’t know the first thing about compromise. I didn’t know the first thing about being a mother. I didn’t know the first thing about life. Today, as I celebrate her reaching this “milestone” of adulthood, I see this amazing creature, this beautiful woman who speaks her mind and wears her passions on her skin, and I realize — Motherhood is a two-way street.
I raised her only as much as she raised me.
I’m sure that I’m not done feeling the pangs of her labor. She has plans to travel the world, to do amazing, distant things. I am learning to miss her, already. But if I could tell her anything, if I could prepare her for this life she’s embarking on, I’d say love hurts.
And it has been my greatest privilege to be hurt by her.