Even though it was the single most important event of my life, I have no memory of it so I am forced to rely upon the memories of others.
It was a Saturday afternoon and a violent, brutal entry into the world. My mother doesn't remember it because the doctors knocked her out cold, but when she held me for the first time three days later, she recalled I was misshapen and covered in bruises. We assume forceps were used to extract all seven pounds of me from her womb. Why women have allowed men to control their birthing experiences is a mystery still not solved in our culture. My mother was smart and brave enough to never let it happen again. She and I birthed all our future children at home.
The next few weeks following my birth continued to be rough. My mother was in so much pain from the trauma of my birth that she couldn't walk and had to crawl on her hands and knees to get from her bed to the bathroom. She had no idea why she was in so much pain and was left mostly alone with her suffering. This is a woman who would later give birth to an eleven pound baby girl then walk out to the barn the next morning to milk the family cow. In other words, though petite, she was no lightweight. Whatever they had done to her in that birthing room left her immobile for weeks. From her bed, she said she could hear me crying alone in my crib but could do little for me. I cried. Alone. A lot.
After a couple of weeks of this, my mother finally caved and made the dreaded phone call to ask her mother for help. This moment should not be underestimated. To put it mildly, my mother was not on amicable terms with my grandmother. The phone call was a sign of absolute desperation. The relationship between the two was strained, mostly from the perspective of my mother. My grandmother tended (or pretended) to be oblivious to why my mother held her in such contempt but my mother's reasons were, in my view, valid.
Generally, when provided the backstory, we discover most people's feelings are valid or at least make more sense, especially if they've been treated mercilessly for the sake of religion, social appearances, or both. My mother and I would end up feeling quite differently about my grandmother. My grandmother holds a precious place in my heart but my love for her is not blind. To the extent I am able, I understand my mother's perspective.
To my mother's chagrin and my grandmother's credit, my grandmother immediately answered the call for help and arrived not long after with my aunt Suzanne in tow. The two were appalled by the conditions they encountered. I feel somewhat confident that the state of affairs must have been quite alarming since the account given by my grandmother matched the independent account given by my mother - the conditions were squalid.
Dirty laundry was strewed throughout the apartment. Soiled diapers were piled in heaps on the floor. I had not been bathed since coming home from the hospital and was underfed. The sheets on my mother's bed had not been changed since she arrived home. Dishes were piled in the sink and garbage had not been taken out. My grandmother and young aunt quickly went to work cleaning and teaching my mother how to feed and bathe me, change my diapers, and swaddle me in a baby blanket. My grandmother showed my mother how to properly prepare my formula and explained the feeding schedule. My mother told me that once she knew how to feed me, I stopped crying and never made much of a fuss from that point forward. From my perspective, my grandmother arrived and saved the day.
One common thread that winds through my story is that my grandmother always seemed to be there when my world was tumbling down. Despite her faults, which we all have to one degree or another, she was the steadiness I could always depend upon in my life. Whatever shortcomings she may have had as a mother, she more than made up for as grandmother.
Other common threads in my story are: the absence of my father; and how my mother's pain kept her from being the mother she might otherwise have been.