Trampoline

Little you, you’ve run out of the house, your feet quick, quicker than mine, you feel free after being inside all morning, your brother chases you, he is upset, you arrived first; the sun has eaten the trampoline’s colours, the bright green has turned sad, sour, broken, but you still see it bright, you take of your pink bright shoes, he takes of his bright blue tennis shoes and both of you keep your socks, unwillingly, to make me happy, to stop my nagging: yes, the little battles you let me win are important.

Little you jumping, up, down, you land on your knees, you stand up, you ask me to count to 10; your brother pretends to fall on his knees and hurt his wrists, asks me to start counting again, I do, and you do the same, I tell you uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco and both of you snap and say ‘no, mummy in English today,’ I start again one, two, three.

Little you, my love, you smile and scream and that squeal and your brother, he laughs and pretends to steal your turn, until he does and you say it’s okay and he does it again and again, until you have had enough and you tell him ‘go away’, and he cries, and I get the red, blue, yellow and green balls and put them in there with you and you all jump and you all move and the colours follow you, little ones, like a rainbow, like magic, like all the things you are learning, like the memories, hopefully colourful ones, and how I wish to to give you colours, shiny, metallic, sparkling, colours for you, my gift to you, I hope, I wish, I try, but I know sometimes I fail – no one taught me to be a mother.

Little you, I’m scared, what if tomorrow you can’t jump there, what if tomorrow, we are locked inside, all day, what if you realised then that the trampoline is old and rusty, what if the neighbours complain and you stop squealing, the squeal … oh I if you only knew how it keeps me bright and alive.

Little you, you sleep now, in your bedroom, a lamp shaped like a pink bunny keeps you safe, and your brother sleeps, no lights on, he has outgrown his Cookie Monster night lamp, and it was sad when he said, ‘you can keep it in your bedroom,’ and I have it there, just in case, because I like it and it makes me smile and it reminds me that you grow every day, perhaps one day he’ll need it again but not today.

Little you, you sat on the bed waiting for me to say good night and your brother was sitting on the floor, and both of you smelt of kids toothpaste and soap and arrowroot biscuits and you screamed and pretended to be cheeky and your brother looked at us and told us he liked the calm, and I asked why and he said you are not telling me ‘do this, do that, do this, do that,’ and I felt like a failure and I wanted to cry and I looked at your father and he looked at me.

Little you, you were jumping when you saw the garbage truck stop outside our home and the man you have seen before said hello and you yelled hello and everything was normal for a while and you had a great day because he tooted the horn, just for you, and both of you squealed and how I want to put that sound in a bottle, the scent of happiness and grass and long hours at home while the world spins and tangles and untangles and I’m a silent witness at home with you reading and cooking and wishing and thinking and playing and working and pretending and laughing and failing at craft but I promise I try so very hard.

Little you, yes I promise I’ll take you to the zoo and the beach when the naughty virus stops travelling and your brother will come too and he will have that ice-cream with chocolate cover he so desperately wants to try again and I’ll hold your hands and you’ll forget about the old trampoline and maybe you will realise it is old and you won’t ask for the red, green, blue and yellow balls and you won’t squeal as often, and one day I’ll reminisce these days and think about the trampoline and your bright tiny shoes and the joy of jumping with the wind and the rain and the sound of a horn and the birds and the flowers and dry leaves.

Ten years later

It is almost midnight and the first 24 hours of 2020 are gone. As a present, as perhaps the first memory of the year, they have given me a day with my son, who told me I am beautiful and the best mum ever (he is four years old, and I won’t question the ulterior motives of this unexpected comment).

Ten years ago, my husband and I were on our my way to Sydney, Australia. I slept most of the flight. I’m not sure if he slept at all. We were nervous, not knowing what to expect, but happy to start a new year in a new country – 2010 was supposed to be marvellous.

We made new friends. Rekindled relations with friends who moved to Sydney almost a decade before us. We grew closer as a couple and in a way we also grew apart. We worked hard, enjoyed the fireworks and started fearing going back to a country whose political situation grew worse by the minute.

On a balmy summer day, we decided to stay here for a few more years. The decision wasn’t as straightforward as it seems. Finding a job in publishing was a concern.

Four years later, on another summer day, I found out we would become parents. Three months later, my husband and I were holding hands while we waited for the results that confirmed my pregnancy wasn’t viable.

I sat on our couch for many days, licking my wounds. My breast filled with sweet milk for my angel baby.

Once the milk stopped coming and my period returned, I tried to write all I could recall from my conversatiobs with GPs, obstetricians, midwives, geneticists, family members, and even coffee and tarot readers only to discover that my childhood fear was real: my mother isn’t my biological mother

I spat in an Ancestry.com tube and waited six weeks to get the results that confirmed my father isn’t my biological father.

My world and my family’s world crumbled. I wasn’t the mistress’s daughter.

***

My son was born via an emergency C-section in 2015, a few days before the severe storms that flooded New South Wales. The rain became his lullaby and my comfort. My daughter was born 17 months later in Melbourne. The rain also became her favourite lullaby.

I spent the next three years with them, watching them grow, learning with them and from them; marvelling at the way they sinterpret the world and sometimes crying with them because all of us were exhausted and overwhelmed at the same time.

Life.

Raw.

My husband and I migrants.

Now I go to work in the morning and wonder what my children do at childcare. Some days I just want to stay with them at home. I fear missing their smiles, their jokes, even their tantrums. They prefer their father’s cooking (and I don’t blame them). When I’m at work and he is home, they grow succulent terrariums and bake blueberry muffins. When he’s at work and I’m home we paint, do puzzles, read books or explore the city. 

They want to visit Mexico. I don’t know how to explain to them that safety is a concern. I wish I could take them to visit their grandfather’s tomb, show them where I grew up and their father’s childhood home.

Perhaps one day.

***

Life changed so dramatically for me in the last 10 years that even my immune system got an identity crisis: psoriasis. I’m learning to be kind with myself, to accept that sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed because the chronic illness has developed a particular taste for my joints.

Some days I wonder what is left of the woman who arrived in Sydney ten years ago, the one who has a terrible relationship with her mother, who dreamt of becoming a children’s book publisher; the one terrified of pregnancy because she spent her childhood playing in the reception area of her father’s obstetrics and gynaecology practice watching women cry because they couldn’t become mothers; the one who edited magazines, wrote film reviews and translated journals.

It would be unfair to say she’s gone.

Or perhaps not.

Once upon a time, a woman lived a lie. She crossed the ocean searching for answers. She moved cities searching for answers. She fell down a rabbit hole looking for answers. She stopped writing. She then found a link to her birth parents and looked at herself in the mirror. She took a picture of that image and hid the photo in a book. She then changed her clothes, curled her hair, bought a new lipstick. One day she went to church to light one candle for her father and one for her unborn daughter. She cried all the way back home. She had never before called that house home. Her children were at childcare; her husband at work. She looked at herself in the mirror again and kissed her own cheek. She decided to be friends with this new woman who looks somewhat frighted and has a soft voice. She promised to help her get her voice back. And then she found a shiny pencil and a notebook and started writing again. 

Fluids

A clump of cells with no heartbeat yet. Blood on my underpants. Tears. The fluids of potential motherhood. Doctors examining my uterus with a camera. You were still there; the size of a kidney bean.

A leap of faith.

Now, you, the size of a lemon. A heartbeat that contains the primal rhythm of the universe. Nails. Nasal bone. Ten little fingers.

A boy.

Twenty weeks later I felt you move, but you didn’t do it often enough. The Internet said a glass of cold water would make you kick; my friends said hot chocolate. Old wives tales from back home mentioned chili.  My online mothers’ group suggested orange juice—I tried them all but you never kicked.

I had daily nightmares. In those sweaty nights I would close my eyes and when sleep finally came I would see you trying to leave my uterus. You would move slowly, like a snail, working with the blood flow to get to the main arteries and crawl out of my body through my left ear, like Gargantua.

Another leap of faith.

You barely reached the size of a cantaloupe. A man held my shoulders. A nurse told me not to move. Then it hit. The anaesthetic entering my spine, travelling through my legs, numbing my lower body. Was your heart still beating? They placed me on a bed and wheeled me to surgery. Hands and familiar voices told me I would feel pressure on my abdomen. They blocked my view with a blue curtain. The obstetrician was talking about his son. I tried to find the reflection of my insides on the walls, on the surgical lamp… somewhere, but they had made sure no mother could see her own blood and fat and waters.

And then you cried.

Someone wrapped and placed you in my hands. There you were, covered in blood, vernix and hair. A boy with black hair. I caressed your red cheeks while the doctors stitched my uterus.

They wheeled us out of the surgical theatre. You in my arms. I didn’t want to drop you. I held you a bit tighter and you cried. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. They snatched you and took you away. They unwrapped you, held you by the legs, and weighted you. Please give him back.

A midwife placed you on my belly, still stained with our blood. Where they supposed to do that? What was the plan? You couldn’t move, but you did—a primitive crawl. You moved like a wounded soldier—swollen, purplish, hungry. You latched to my engorged breasts and you drank my milk—the fluid of life

Mother’s Day ramblings

A few days ago my family celebrated Mother’s Day. We went for tea and cakes, and my son stole his father’s chocolate cake. He ate it with such gusto that we just smiled and enjoyed watching how his little face lit up with every bite.

In the evening we went to the park to play with him and my daughter. She’s too young to have cake, but she likes the swings and laughs every time she sees a leaf fall from a tree.

It’s autumn here, in Australia.

I was born in autumn in a city in America, and this Mother’s Day was the first time that I’ve thought about my birth.

‘She saw me and was repulsed. She wanted a boy’. That’s how one of the many short stories that I’ve written about my adoptive mother starts. Those stories won’t be published. They are too juvenile — and they were written before I learnt that she was my adoptive mother.

When I was 6 years old, my adoptive mother got pregnant. It was summer and I was at home. We watched television all day and I ate cakes and played with my nanny. My adoptive mother, LM, couldn’t get out of bed because she had preeclampsia.

Alice in Wonderland was my favourite book then and I remember well the day I asked my dad if we could name my sister Alice. He said yes.

When LM’s blood pressure got out of control, she gave birth to a little girl who was about 24 weeks. I never saw Alice. We never talked about Alice, yet her short life changed mine.

I always knew I wanted to have kids, but I was too afraid to even try to get pregnant. My head kept on playing the same scenes that haunted my fertility journey for years–LM pregnant, LM crying, LM not pregnant and my grandparents picking up a small cardboard box that is buried in their garden. I didn’t want to be pregnant and then lose my baby because of my blood pressure.

And it was until I lost a little girl that I learnt LM isn’t my mother.

My adoptive mother wasn’t repulsed when a doctor placed a two-day-old girl in her arms. She was surprised and disappointed. She wanted a boy. I was a girl. She wanted to have her own children. I was someone else’s daughter.

My mother is an American woman who is happily married and has a couple of kids. I like to think she lives in New York and takes long strolls in Central Park thinking about my whereabouts and how to contact me.

My mother is a woman in her early 50s who doesn’t know I’m still alive. My grandmother gave me up for adoption because she didn’t want her teenage daughter’s life to go to waste.

My mother doesn’t think about me because she never wanted me.

My mother. My mother.

Only my father knew who she was. She could be the American woman, she could be the teenager who never knew, or she can be someone who simply didn’t want a child.

Today I wonder if I’ll ever hear her voice.

That image of my son eating cake is now etched in my mind. When I think about Mother’s Day I’ll think about him–he was so proud of himself because he knew he was doing something wrong and was getting away with it. I’ll think about him standing up, face and hands covered in chocolate, holding my hand and taking me out of the restaurant to show me the fruit stall at the market.

My mother missed this day with her grandson. She’s missed 14,235 days of my life and I’ve needed her every single one of those days.

Maybe next Mother’s Day I’ll have her next to me. Maybe next autumn I’ll know her name.

I’m sorry

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for not understanding how important it was to meet your daughter when she was born and both of you were still in hospital. I’m sorry I asked you to come over to my place instead because I was too busy at work. I’m so sorry to have called you so many times to tell you about work, my partner, my problems with my mother, and not taking the time to listen all about your then newborn daughter. I’m sorry, my dear friend, for not acknowledging how important it was to be there for you when you first became a mum; today I know that motherhood is isolating.

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Photo credit: Jason Pratt/Flickr

My friend’s daughter looks like her mum and has two siblings – I didn’t visit them at hospital either. I wish I could their mother give a call, ask for advice, because sometimes I feel lost and don’t trust my gut.

Misguided by myriad ads, I thought having a baby was like having a party and that the first year was filled with play, cuddles, love, and then more cuddles. How mistaken I was.

Indeed there are cuddles and love and play, but there are so many naps and sleepless nights in between; so many feeding sessions that end with a sore breast or a bruised nipple; so many questions without answers. So many mistakes … so many.

It’s with motherhood that the word ‘selfish’ acquires a different meaning. You stop having time for your friends and squeeze a few minutes out of every day to be you, to rejoice in who you are, and discover that underneath the ‘mummy uniform’ there’s still traces if you. Selfish means being you, even if it’s just for a few seconds. I’m so sorry, my friend, I didn’t understand this when you first became a mother. I’m sorry I called you selfish for not understanding that I had a deadline.

I now, my friend, why you stopped talking to me, why you didn’t go to my wedding but nonetheless sent a present I carried with me to a different continent. I understand why you didn’t comment on Facebook when I first posted a picture of my son.

I’m sorry my dear friend for not being there for you. I’m really sorry.

Notes on motherhood #1

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It was summer during the last few weeks of my pregnancy. I spent those days resting, my hands too swollen to type; my feet too swollen to walk. My favourite spot was the living area. I used to open the balcony door and let the cool air – and the mosquitoes – in. There I contemplated the robust tree that provided some much needed shade to my place.

At the time, the leaves were perfect green. I pictured the sap running through the tree, nourishing its trunk, branches and leaves, much as my blood travelled through my body to found its way to the placenta to nourish my boy.

When my little person arrived the seasons started changing. Autumn came and went, leaving those beautiful orange and red leaves that always warm my heart. My hands and feet weren’t swollen anymore, but my breasts were full and dripping milk.

Suddenly my skin was a bit looser, my hair started to turn grey, my nails became brittle, and my eyebrows started to thin. My lips seem to be less full, perhaps less defined, my chin now sports a black hair I had never seen before, and I have a scar above my pubis –  a reminder of how my boy decided to enter the world. My body feels like autumn too.

Now that the tree has run out of leaves and is getting ready for spring, I wonder if my body will do the same. Will I be a bit more mobile once the sun comes out again? Will I drip less milk? Will my hair ever come back? Will I be able to be fertile soil and fall pregnant again?

Only summer will tell, but in the meantime, I rejoice in my newly found sense of womanhood and hold my child a bit closer to me every night, as every day he grows a bit more.