Yesterday I had a long telephone conversation with the Girlchild about my experiment in memoir. She doesn’t read this weblog, for the same reasons she doesn’t read my books: too much information. I understand her reasoning completely. My guess is when she’s older, she might change her mind.
In the course of the conversation she said she might read the memoir posts that deal with my childhood, and we would have left it there but I got up the courage to ask her a question. I hadn’t been able to figure out for myself if I could write about my own childhood without writing about hers, and how did she feel about that?
I never expected — I never let myself think about — raising a daughter. The idea scared me. When I was pregnant I was very open about wanting a boy, although I added the obligatory any baby as long as it’s healthy. That’s not what I was feeling, though. I hoped for a boy, and I bugged the ultrasound technicians to tell me it was a boy., and everytime it was a no go. This baby is shy, the technician would say. Legs firmly crossed.
I spent endless hours talking to my therapist about it. What if I did have a girl? What did that mean? Could I be a good mother to a girl, when I had no experience of one myself? The therapist wanted to know why I thought I could mother a boy, if not a daughter. Still today I can’t really articulate the answer to that except the obvious: it’s different. It’s a clean start. A blank slate. Of course it wouldn’t have been, but that’s the way it felt to me.
The Girlchild and I had a rocky start. I went into labor at 27 weeks, which let me tell you, is like a four alarm fire in the maternity ward. She wouldn’t have survived at that stage, and so I was in and out of the hospital until she was born ten days early, by c-section because she was adamantly breech.
So the c-section went forward as planned, and the moment came when the surgeons held the baby up for us to see. I wanted to know immediately, boy or girl? And one of the surgeons said: It’s a boy.***
Then the Mathematician went over to watch as the pediatricians checked out the baby, and I turned to the midwife and said, I really wanted a boy, I’m so glad.
And then Mathematician came back and said Hey! It’s a GIRL.
I spent the next twenty four hours in the normal post c-section haze, and sometime the next day I was holding the baby when the shift changed and a new nurse came in. She said, Oh, she looks JUST LIKE YOU.
And I burst into tears.
The Girlchild knows this story. I don’t remember when we first told her the detailed version or when I went into details about what scared me , but I do know that she was eight years old before she ever asked me about my mother. I never raised the subject, but for those eight years I was preparing myself for the question and what I might possibly say, how to explain to this brightest of lights in the world about her grandmother and why I had wanted a boy and how wrong I had been about that. My therapist coached me and coached me, and when the time came, I managed to say what needed to be said, and I answered questions. That was also the first time I talked to her about alcoholism and genetics. She was only eight, and so I kept it simple. Over the years I added more detail and information, and we talked about my decision to never drink at all, for fear of a predisposition to addiction.
Yesterday on the phone I said to her, you know it’s hard for me to write about my mother without writing about you. But I haven’t done that, because I respect your privacy. And she said, Mom, of course you have to write about me. Of course you do.
It will take me some time to believe that, and then longer still to actually start to look at this juxtaposition of an alcoholic mother and a much loved daughter who started down that same path. Despite everything we could do to warn her, to make her understand what it meant. To save her life, and ours.
It will take a while, but I will write about it. It seems that I have to.
*** The midwife was a thirty year veteran, and the surgeons – some young enough to be her grandchildren – were all afraid of her. She was furious that one of them had announced “It’s a boy” when it most definitely was not. The next day she said to me, “There’s no excuse for that. None. I interviewed every person in that delivery room, but nobody would admit to me which surgeon said it.” And no wonder, say I.