During a routine doctor’s visit five years ago, I had a well-meaning ob-gyn scare the living bejesus out of me. He thought he’d found something. A lump on my left breast. He looked frightened himself while he leaned over me. He was sharp and sudden, his fingers nearly bruising my skin.
“Take your two fingers here — HERE!” he motioned to me, his voice rising in frustration. “Do you feel that? There — no, THERE! Nurse?” He called over his shoulder. “Nurse? Come in here, please.”
I looked at the fluorescent rectangle of light above me, while I lay on the table and he marked my body in blue ballpoint pen ink, measuring my flesh and repeating meaningless, frightening numbers to the woman suddenly standing beside me.
“Oh, God,” I blurted out. “My son is two.”
It was the first thing I said out loud, the first thing my mind acknowledged. My baby. My child. My children. Their faces were there, my daughter’s and my son’s.
It was the first thing I thought of. Not my young age, not my husband, not my parents, not my own fear of dying.
I thought of my children first. Children who were still so young and needed their mother. A mother who was flawed and who often sucked at the details of the task, but who was theirs, in every nucleus of every one of her tingling cells.
Weeks later, after that horrible doctor’s appointment, I would learn that I was healthy and absolutely fine.
But the fierceness that coursed through me that day, the immediate instinct to survive for the sake of my children, will never be forgotten or dismissed. It was a comfort to know that I had truly signed on for the job, and that it had saturated me — my bones and flesh for sure, since they had come from within me — but even deeper, to where my love for their father had borne and flourished, where I cherished that which cannot be seen or held but known, truly and purely felt and understood on a different plane. That is where my motherhood resides. And where it will stay. And where it rises up when it’s called upon.
I think that’s true of most mothers. Children give us lots and lots of reasons to want to strangle them. But we don’t. Because we have this place, this orb of motherliness that is cracked and chinked but still glows with a goddamn brilliant light. I don’t know how it got there, but it just is, formed from oxytocin and Enfamil and — personally, for me? — whiskey. Neat.
Saying this doesn’t make me better than any mother on the playground, one in thirty-two hours of labor with her first child, flying across the world to take home a child from a foreign orphanage, or working two jobs to keep food on the table. But it’s who I know I’ve come to be, and I am grateful to my daughter and son for giving me this gift.
I don’t know what I’ll face in my days to come, but I do hope my path is long. It’s already been lush and rich, filled with such simple, honest beauty. I shouldn’t need more. I’ve already been given enough.
But right now, my children need me. And when they do, that fierceness will rise up. No doubt.
And then I’m gonna need to take a nap.