Saturday, August 23, 2014

Relinquishing Control

We can't ask
for what we know we want:
we have to ask to be led
someplace we never dreamed of going,
a place we don't want to be.

We'll find ourselves there
one morning,
opened like leaves,
and it will be all right.
- Kathleen Norris 

Eleanor Hardwick

This past year has brought more change into my life more quickly than I ever imagined possible. It's been a bittersweet mix of joy and loss, fear and empowerment, and many bright emotions that accompany such an intense transition from woman to mother-woman.

I was born to a 29-year old woman, and became the eldest of 8 children to the same parents. No, we are not Catholic or Mormon. (We get that question a LOT in my family). NO, my parents were not trying to repopulate the planet (my mother was actually asked this question by a total stranger in front of 5 of us children while running an errand in town one summer day).

My view of motherhood, as a girl-child, was one of complete and total devotion and sacrifice to your offspring. My mama was THERE there, always present, always available to us. The three oldest children were homeschooled all the way through to graduation, and most of the others were schooled at home for the majority. My mother accomplished this nearly single-handedly. There were field trips to farms and museums and other interesting, and sometimes obscure locations. We got our hands dirty, and we all learned how to properly clean a toilet. We worked hard, and we played hard. We took care of one another. I was never alone, with so many in our home.

But I came to a decision as a young teen that I did not want children of my own.

Perhaps that evolved out of the struggle we faced for so many years living below the poverty line. There were too many occasions I watched the discouragement on my mother's face in grocery stores as she tore out paper food stamp coupons for bread and milk.

Perhaps it was the difficulty I witnessed in my parents' marriage- my father has always, to my knowledge, struggled with mental illness and a seeming inability to  step up, take responsibility and be an adult who chose to have many children. Added to this, he was abusive. Though I (now) feel compassion and forgiveness toward him, he is not a part of my life.

Or maybe it was the deep need I was coming to understand inside myself; the need for freedom and solitude that I intuitively knew mothering children would inhibit for a good number of years.
Perhaps it was all of these things in combination.

Then I met Nino, and we married 15 months later - a huge commitment that I struggled with for several years after our wedding day, only settling into a profound sense of peace and joy in our 6th year of marriage (see this post). It was yet another form of self-relinquishment that I feared, just as I was coming to know myself as an individual, adult woman.

At 25 years old, I was in no hurry to get pregnant. I knew Nino wanted to be a father. It worried me, because I had moments of hunger for motherhood- a child of my own- a second chance at childhood, in a way. But I had seen so much of the responsibility part of things, and had watched my mother's 'mother life' with a keen eye- I hadn't missed a thing.

My sweet Nino, on the other hand, had come from a family of two children in the home, and he was the youngest, and the only son to boot. We had vastly different experiences when it came to growing up.

We spent years having "The Baby Conversation" :
The pros. The cons. The realities and the sacrifices. His longing. My fears.
And then we were in our thirties.

We decided to go for it. We were ready. We tried to get pregnant for nearly two years, without success, and I admit that a very deep part of me was relieved. At least, I didn't feel guilty for saying no to my love, who had wanted daddyhood so badly.

So we gave it up and decided that parenthood wasn't meant for us. We rented a tiny house out in the country- 45 minutes from our family and friends in the city, with one bedroom and no door to the bathroom.

I left my job at the spa I was managing, and after taking some much needed rest, opened my own private practice. We would save, pay off debt, try to convince the owners of our little rental to sell it to us, remodel it and live happily ever after in the country, quietly and contentedly childless (not counting our terrier princess, of course).

And then I was late.
At first I wasn't too worried. I just... noticed.
Then a week passed. Then another day. Then another.
Then I freaked out.

Nino went on a hunting trip with a friend (one he'd been planning and saving for all year).
He would be gone 10 days. He left from work on a Wednesday night.
That night I took a bath.
I lit candles, incense, and turned on some sacred music. The house was silent and all mine.
The steam from the water filled the bathroom- the bathroom I had spent an entire day scrubbing, and two days painting before moving in just months earlier.
I placed my hands on my belly.
'I can't have a baby', I pleaded quietly with my body and whatever being might be planning to take up residence there.
Just the day before, while showering, I was musing about how things have a way of working out- that I would never be pregnant, never be a mama- and I was basically okay with that.
Now here I was, faced with something that I knew deep inside my body but couldn't yet face with my heart or mind.
So I begged. And bargained. And cried. Please, no. Please. Please...

And then I heard... laughter.
Behind me, underneath my heart, from somewhere far away and yet so very close I couldn't hold it.
A giggling, a chuckle, a laugh that was delighted with my fear and my pleading.
And I knew. I wouldn't speak it, but I knew.
'You don't get to control this.' were the words.
And my heart began to race after it stutter-stopped in my chest.

I didn't sleep that night.
I called my mother as early as I dared- waiting until I knew for certain she would be awake.

"Mama, I think I might be pregnant."'

"Ok...... well, honey, why do you think that?"

"I'm pretty late, and my body feels weird, kinda soft everywhere, and my boobs feel mooshy."

"Uh-huh." I could here her facial expression over that phone, I swear to god.

" I don't know if I can do this, mom."

"Alright, honey, well you don't even know for sure yet, so you need to go buy a test and just find out."

"I don't want to!"
I could hear myself- the whiny 10-year old pleading with her mommy.

"Sarah, go buy a damn test. You need to know."
Thanks mom. Always the kick in the ass I need, at just the right moment, in just the right tone of voice.

So I drove to the damn store and bought the damn test. But I had a damn hair appointment, so I drove there after and used the bathroom beforehand.

I peed on a stick.

They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die. Well, the same thing happens when you're waiting to learn if your entire life is about to change....

The packaging on all these things says to wait 2 minutes to be sure that what you're seeing is genuinely the result.
Two minutes weren't necessary, apparently.
It came out with a plus sign IMMEDIATELY. So I peed on three more sticks.
All plus signs.

Oh Holy Shit.
My mind was doing somersaults, and my stomach was doing a pretty good job keeping up with that.
I felt the bottom fall right out of my plans, my life, my ... EVERYTHING.

The laughter again... it came to me quietly.

I was shaking.
I stared at my face in the bathroom mirror. I was going to be someone's mother.
Can I do this? How do I do this? We just decided NOT to do this! What the HELL?!

And then the immediate sense that I was absolutely NOT in control of this.
"You don't get to control this."
This baby had decided to come, despite birth "control".
I laughed in spite of my total terror.

True- I was out of control in the most real sense I had experienced to date.
My husband wouldn't be home for another 9 days.
And he didn't know he was going to be a daddy.


So, I went and sat down and had my hair done.
And I shook.
And I called my mama.
And I fell into another state of consciousness.
I re-thought and re- re-thought everything I knew about my mother, her life, her mothering, my relationship with her... it all became so different, so potent and so relevant.

And I held the secret from my love for 9 more days, in 9 phone calls at sunset checking up on me, even as my body began to be queasy and ill... I pretended I had a cold when Nino asked why I sounded strange.

Ok. I would have a baby. I would become a mama. Life as I knew it to be was over, but in a really gorgeous sense, and the life coming my way? Something unknown, something a little (no, a lot) scary, but something I knew was being sent my way, in spite of ME, to bless me, to teach me, to grow me, to fill me with a new joy.

Something in me swelled- something as yet unnamed, unknown, untouched. Something that would take nearly a year to understand, before this baby would appear. So, I would wait and watch and be brave.

One my most favorite lines in a movie, EVER, is from a romantic comedy. Here you go:

"You are everything I never knew I always wanted" 

yeah. that.


  1. I so totally resonate with this post, Sarah!! I always thought I would never have children. And now... Well we're not there yet, but I do feel we're turning a corner. This post moved me, and made me laugh. What a beautiful way of coming into yourself as a mother. Many blessings on this powerful, momentous transformation.


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