My daughter was only ten days old when I tried to give her away.
There at the door of my parents’ house, I heaved her baby car seat away from me towards my mother.
Take her. I can’t do this.
My arms shook as they took off my coat, made me sit, brought me tea.
Kate slept on, bundled, quiet.
She almost died. I’m not ready. I can’t-
Tears on the sofa.
I want to be five again, not a grown woman of 31, breasts swollen with milk.
Kate choked on breast milk. Went blue. Stared at me in desperate seconds before I called 911, screaming help. The operator instructed me calmly to turn Kate over and thrust my hand five times on her back. Turn her back towards me and use two fingers to press gently between her nipples. We never got that far. Kate started coughing and then came a clear cry into the air.
I hung up, fell to my knees, rocking her as she wailed. That’s how my neighbour Betty found me. She must have let the paramedics in. I tried to reassemble my shirt, gaping nursing bra, tangled hair. It was a tall guy and a woman who shushed my apologies and told me half of their calls are from exhausted new mothers. They were not there long. The minute they left, I was out the door, in my car, Kate strapped in her car seat. I was not myself anymore, but some crazed half-woman, half bird-beast, fleeing through traffic, seeing nothing but the road ahead to Mom and Dad’s house, my childhood home.
Dad rubbed my back as I blubbered on about my feeding woes—Kate was being fed by a tiny tube taped to my husband’s fingers;the tube was attached to a syringe filled with pumped breast milk—she had yet to gain weight. Her doctor had suggested I begin supplementing with formula. My nipples were black scabs as I soldiered on, bringing her tiny mouth to my breasts every hour, hoping she would be strong enough to suck on her own.
My mother waited for me to finish my tale of woe, looking back and forth from Kate, snug in her seat, to me, sprawled beside her.
Buck up, for goodness sake!
Get hold of yourself. You are a mother now.
No, no, I am not. I am not responsible, I almost killed her.
That’s ridiculous. She looks fine. She’s a beautiful baby.
I look down at my sleeping daughter. She still has her suntan, still jaundiced, despite the hours sitting in front of the sunny living room window of our apartment downtown. She occupies the space that used to be… used to be… what? I can’t remember, I can’t name what it is that used to be there. There is no before. There is only now. This moment.
This is only the beginning. You must be strong. She needs you. She is going to fall off her bike, break bones from time to time, get sick. Are you going to fall apart every time that happens?
I wanted a different mother right then. Someone to hug me. Tell me she understands as I weep. Instead, she tells Dad to go and fetch me some cheese and crackers and more tea. Takes Kate out of her car seat, peels off her wee coat and begins to walk around the room with a little bounce, singing to her. Kate is awake now, peering up at her Grandma with her huge brown eyes—my eyes. She can’t smile yet but she is hardly the wailing child with blue skin that was my child mere hours ago. She is still and sweet.
Mom is now eighty and my Kate is one of eleven grandchildren. Mom and Dad live in that same childhood home I raced to that day long ago. We see each other often and I love walking up the path towards their front door.
I feel myself stand taller when I ring their doorbell.
Happy Mother’s Day.