The Things I’ll Miss

Around each of our children’s first birthdays, I’ve written a list of the things I’ll miss from their first year of life…those special baby things and moments I don’t want to forget. There have been general baby items, like that baby smell or a toothless baby grin, and things specific to each child, such as the way Bunny used to hook her index finger over her nose while she sucked her thumb. Here are just a few of the things from Chickadee’s “things I’ll miss” list:

  • The newborn “slow blink”
  • Her adorably hairy ears
  • How expressive her legs are, happy or angry
  • Cute baby snores
  • The way she’d hold my hair
  • Huge baby yawns
  • “So big”
  • Dancing together
  • Sticking her tongue out
  • Cute baby noises
  • Playing “you can’t catch me!”

There are so many more things on my list and in my heart and mind, but this gives you an idea of what a special first year we’ve had with our little Chickadee!

How Do You Do It?

I get asked this a lot. I guess having four children, and especially since the oldest is only five, kind of begs the question. I don’t mind when people I know inquire–I figure since they’ve seen how, um, *active* my children are, they’re probably wondering how it is that I haven’t been institutionalized or started drinking in the morning. It really irks me, though, when perfect strangers come up to me (Target seems to be a favorite location for this conversation) and ask how I manage, or comment on how many children I have, or let me know that I have my hands full (thanks for the news bulletin!).

I guess people are just naturally curious, but they really make me feel like some kind of circus side show–why do complete strangers feel the need to comment on my family, or ask personal questions that are none of their business? It’s getting to the point where my children are starting to notice the commentary and ask why people always say that–and I imagine they’re getting used to being stared at about as much as I am. (My personal favorite, though, was one day when I was at the hospital for the baby’s well child exam, and someone asked if they were all mine. Really, you think I’d drag four children through the very busy hospital because it’s so much fun? Does it look like some kind of game trying to make sure the double stroller and the two older children all make it into the elevator before the doors close? Some people need some kind of screening device between their brains and mouths!)

Anyway, as to how I do it…how do I not do it? Really, what choice do I have? The house and children need to be cared for, and as that is my responsibility, I just do it. I can’t even remember what it was like to have only one child; can barely remember only having two. Frankly, adding children three and four were much easier than adding child two, because by the time I had baby three, I knew what to expect, and knew how to divide my time more efficiently.

This question always reminds me of a conversation I had with my doctor after baby three arrived. I had a c-section, just I have with all my other deliveries, and I was talking to him about how I was going to care for my older two children once I got home from the hospital, because I knew I’d have even less help this time around than I did with the first two. I flat out told him that I knew I’d be lifting at least my 16 month old sometimes, if not the two and half year old as well. I said this knowing full well that is not what doctors advise following a section–they always tell you not to lift anything heavier than the baby. But my doctor just looked at me and said “you do what you have to do.” He understood. He didn’t try to make me feel guilty for breaking the “rules,” rather, he set me free to parent the way I knew I needed to do, and to do what I felt was best for me and my children.

That’s how I feel about having four so young and so close in age–I do what I have to do. Sure, there are some mornings when I can barely drag myself out of bed, and there are some nights when I fall back into it in exhaustion, and there are many, many days when I tire of mediating disputes over toys, books and games, but this is the job God has given me to do. No matter how difficult it may be at times, it is what I have always wanted, and I can’t imagine doing it any differently. I’m doing what I have to do, because it’s there for me to do, and it needs to be done, and done well.

Four Children and I’ve Never “Given Birth”?!?

Self-righteous women who take it upon themselves to decide that c-section mamas haven’t really “given birth” honk me off. Is having surgery to bring your child into the world ideal? Probably not, although I’d take a healthy baby born by c-section (and an equally healthy mom!) over a normal delivery with complications any day. But some women can be so condescending with their “all you did was lay there while the doctor did all the work–I made an effort to bring my children into the world!” speeches, it makes me want to smack them! I especially appreciated one women’s analogy between my baby and a bad appendix. Apparently, when you have a c-section, you are opened up, just like during an appendectomy, and instead of the doctor removing your appendix, he removes your baby. Nice. Please be more insulting next time.

Why do we insist on arguing over semantics, anyway? Is it really that important if I “delivered” my baby, or if I was “delivered of” my baby? Give me a break–all that really matters is a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby, and the fact that, in the end, I’m a mom.

And just for the record, in my opinion, I’ve given birth four times, and no one will convince me otherwise!

Book Review: “The Girls Who Went Away”

I thought it might be kind of fun to review some of the books I’m reading courtesy of our public library, and, even though I have four children, I also have too much time on my hands, so I came up with a cute little rating system. Five stars–excellent book, probably going to buy it at some point; Four stars–good book, I’ll be requesting it from the library again in the future; Three stars–OK book, I finished it, but have no desire to read it again; Two stars–not so hot, I started to skip sections because I was bored; One star–So bad, I couldn’t even finish it!

Alright, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, the first book I’m going to review is “The Girls Who Went Away” by Ann Fessler. I’ve been meaning to read this book since I heard about it last summer, but I have to admit, I was a little leery of it because of the sub-title: “The Hidden History of Women who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade.” I was afraid that because the author was so bent on mentioning Roe v. Wade on the cover of her book, that the tone of the book would be about the poor women who were forced to give up their babies for adoption because they didn’t have the option of abortion. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that is not what this book is about, and abortion is actually rarely mentioned on the pages at all.

What this book is about, is the heart-wrenching tales of young woman (and even some who were not as young, but were unmarried) who were forced by their families and “social agencies” to give their children away. They were not given any choices or support to keep their babies and raise them, but were told every step of the way what they were going to do, in order to help their families save face, and to provide couples who couldn’t conceive babies of their own in the post-war baby boom the children that everyone expected them to have.

I was not surprised (although I was saddened) by the treatment of these girls by their families; I was shocked, however, at the tactics used by social workers to ensure that the girls did not change their minds about adopting out their children. They used scare tactics on these young women by telling them about the horrible lives their children would have–they would never be able to provide enough material things, their children would be mocked on the playground and friendless, just because they were raised in a single parent home. They were threatened that they would have to pay back the cost of their stay at the unwed mothers’ home, and how could they possibly do that with little education, no job, and a baby to support (never mind no family support on top of all that!) Even though some of these women may technically have been offered the choice to keep their children, it was made clear to them that the only real choice they had was adoption.

Each chapter of the book had a theme, such as “The Family’s Fears,” which contained a lot of statistical information, as well as snippets of women’s stories as they remembered surrendering their children. Following the main body of the chapter were two longer essays, each focusing on a different woman’s story of pregnancy and the adoption of her child. I found myself crying many times in reading these stories, as even after several decades since their loss, these women’s heartache was palpable.

Something that I found very interesting about these women’s stories is the similarities of their labor and delivery experiences. Despite the fact that they lived all over the country, the same fears and indignation kept coming up. Almost all of the women remembered humiliation at having to be shaved prior to delivery. They also tended to recount not being prepared for what would happen in the child birth process, being left alone to labor, and having cruel nurses tell them that they deserved to suffer alone, without any medical intervention or support, throughout the labor process, because of their unwed status.

There were mixed reports on whether or not the women chose to see and spend time with their babies. Some refused to see them at all, realizing they could never give them up once they laid eyes on them. Others set their minds to make the most of every moment, realizing that was all they would ever have. Still others tried to find a way to keep their baby once they bonded with him or her, but were always dissuaded from doing so, either by family, social workers or clergy. Most of them remembered the things every mother relishes about a child–the baby smell, the softness of skin and hair, the number of fingers and toes, the smallness of limbs and of clothing.

This book gave me a completely different view of adoption. I had always assumed that for the most part, unwed mothers would happy to be “relieved” of the burden of having a child at a young age, without a husband, without an education or a job. This is obviously not true. Every one of the women in this book struggled with what she was required to do, and most of them never got over the loss. The maternal instinct is clearly stronger than even I had realized, seeing how badly these teenagers wanted their babies.

The (somewhat) happy ending is that many of the women were reunited with their biological children later in life. I say somewhat, because even a reunion does not make up for the 20+ years of life together that both mother and child missed. It was also sad to see that for the most part, these women had to suffer in silence for such a long time, because there did not used to be resources to help birth parents find the children they had lost, and vice versa. While I still sympathize with the conflicting feelings adoptive parents must have when their children go off in search of their biological families, I also have a greater sympathy for those people connected by DNA, if nothing else, especially realizing that many mothers did not, and still may not, want to give their children up. When you add that to a person’s natural curiosity regarding his or history, medical and otherwise, and from whence he or she came, I understand why both parties would be searching for each other.

I give this book four and a half stars. It really deserves five stars, because it was such a good, emotionally engaging book, but I’m not sure of it’s re-read value, which is why I’m not currently planning on purchasing it. Who knows, though, I may change my mind. I’m sure I would pick up even more on the emotion of those decisions a second (and even third) time through!