Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Pain Event (34 Weeks)

I left home at the age of 19. My parents were not particularly impressed. For starters, my timing was seen as rather poor. A couple of weeks earlier my paternal grandmother had died of thyroid cancer.

My mother, being a trained nurse, had taken on the role of carer in that last stage of the cancer, my grandfather being hopelessly out of his depth both emotionally and physically. As a result of my mother’s efforts, my grandmother was able to die with dignity in her own bed.

It wasn’t just my mother who waited out those final weeks. Our entire family, Mum, Dad, my three younger sisters and I, had decamped from Newcastle and were now living in the fold up bunkbeds and strange faux-holiday ambience of my grandparents’ caravan. Once the getaway vehicle for countless family adventures it was now permanently parked on the pebblemix drive, a few feet away from my grandmother’s bedroom window.

She eventually died after a few weeks of this strange sad caravan limbo and then Mum and Dad took us down the coast to spend some time in a friend’s beach house. The idea was to have some family time, some grieving time, some quiet reflective time.

The problem for me was that I had left a boyfriend in Newcastle and an active sex life, both of which I was missing. I understood the need to support my grandfather and look after my grandmother, I respected my parents' wish to spend precious post funeral days in a poorly furnished two bedroom fibro minus television and telephone, but when we got back to Newcastle I packed a bag and announced my intention to stay with my boyfriend in Sydney over the weekend so we could go sailing.

And my parents hit the roof.

Looking back I imagine they felt it was too soon to be enjoying myself so soon after such a sad event. My father, who had said little to me about his grief at losing his mother, was probably disgusted at my blatant desire to hang off the edge of a speeding catamaran not to mention my unspoken desire to hang off my boyfriend.

I argued that I needed a break, that I wanted a holiday…
But you just had a holiday, my father snapped back. We just spent a week in a beach house.

And I hated every minute, I wanted to say.
Because the thing is, the holiday I want is from you.

I didn’t say those things, some vestigal sensitivity must have held me back. Instead I began to whine to get my way, always a useful tactic when dealing with disapproving parents. In this instance, my piercing tones finally burst the emotional dam in my father, he was able to shout that I was an ungrateful bitch, which obviously went down very well with me, and finally he offered this ultimatum: if you walk out that door you’re never coming back.

It was a no brainer.
Fine, I shouted back. I’ll move out when I get back from Sydney.

My face was grim, my eyes hard and stony but as I walked down the stairs I suddenly heard my mother break down and cry. It was this more than any of my father’s threats that nearly propelled me back up the stairs but instead I kept going, knowing that a line had been crossed.

I would go to Sydney and have plenty of sailing and sex, I would come back and move into a friend’s place, close to the university. After a few months my parents would visit my new house bringing housewarming presents and hugging me close. I would return to the family home, we would move beyond the incident and never speak of it again, but on that day standing on the stairs that led to the front door, hovering between anger and regret I realised that for the first time I had knowingly broken my mother’s heart. I could have taken a knife out of the kitchen drawer and stabbed her and I knew it could not have hurt her more than the sound of my feet marching out the front door.

I had caused this pain.
I had done it willingly.
And I cried bitterly at the thought.

A few years earlier I had kept a diary and one particularly ugly day I had written about how much I hated my fucking parents, each of them, my fucking mother and my fucking father and how I wished they would both just fuck off.

I have no idea why I had written this, I only remember the words scrawled in pencil, jagged furious scribblings inarticulate with 15 year old rage.

And I remember coming home from school to find my diary open to that page on my desk, a pointed message that my parents had found the page and read it.

For several years whenever I thought about this discovery I became furious all over again at the invasion of my privacy. But then, not long ago, I thought about this incident and instead of feeling the familiar white hot incandescence of my teenage indignation I wondered how I would feel, reading those words, about me, in my child’s handwriting.

It was a strange sensation and oddly painful.

These and other memories came back to me this week following a phonecall from a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time.
I hear you’re pregnant, he said, congratulations, I think you'll be a great mother.

The friend asked where we were having the baby and we discussed the hospital, the same place his wife had her baby recently, except, I said, we're hoping to use the Birth Centre and be under midwife care.

My friend made a small derisive sound. His wife had had an elective caesarian.
Oh, he said, you’re having one of those ‘natural’ births.

Well, I said, we’re going to try. It’s very possible I’ll be wheeled screaming straight into the labour ward and the warm comforting arms of Mr Epidural but I’m going to try my best to have a ‘natural’ birth, yes.

I didn’t mention the stretches and the birth plans and the support team, it seemed pointless.

I just don’t understand why you’d put yourself through all that… and then with a Herculean effort at civility he changed his tone. Oh well, he said cheerfully, to each their own.

The word he had omitted was pain.

I understood that he saw pain as a needless exercise, as an unnecessary element of the child-bearing procedure. Nobody likes pain. God knows I don’t, I am after all the woman who, years ago, when my then GP had greeted my announcement that I wanted to have a baby with the news that I should start with a blood test, blanched with horror and shrieked a bloodtest!?

Pain is unpleasant.
Pain makes you cry.
Pain makes other people cry for you because there’s not much they can do to help and also because in an effort to alleviate one’s pain one might reach for one’s husband’s gonads and scream Breathe Through This, Cunt.

Oh yes, it’s all ahead of me.

I didn’t say to my friend that I’m afraid of pain too, but I am looking forward to the birth of my child. That I have struggled so long and so hard to bring this soul into the world and one of those struggles was giving up things like coffee and wine and painkillers and anything else I thought might possibly harm or hurt my baby. That to avoid pain in the way he preferred I would need to agree to the use of drugs that might possibly harm or hurt my baby. That I would perhaps undergo invasive major surgery.

I’m not inflexible about this. I know I might become exhausted, the baby may become distressed, there are a myriad of crisis situations that may necessitate intervention and I’m prepared to do what it takes. Including the drugs and the surgery and whatever else I have to do to ensure a healthy baby.

But just here, just now, with six weeks left to go, yes, I do want to have a ‘natural’ birth.

And the thing is, I should have said to my friend, that pain you can’t even bring yourself to mention? That’s just the start buddy. You’ve got a daughter whom you adore more than life itself. I saw the photographs you sent via email, the radiance on you and your wife’s face as you held up your precious bundle.

But amongst the many golden moments of joy, there will still be pain, blackly stitched in fear, in illness, in injury or accident, in anger, in rage, in death. How does a father feel when his daughter says she hates her family or she leaves home under a dark cloud with her mother crying beside him? And for some parents, the pain is overwhelming. Last week an 8 year old girl was found murdered in a shopping centre toilet. The week before that a father accidentally ran his toddler over as he reversed down the driveway.

There is no anaesthetic for parenthood.

In the last days of my mother’s life, we, her daughters and husband, were gathered around her bed day and night like moths drawn to the intoxicating glow of her dying.

Now it was my turn to have my heart broken, and not fast or cleanly, but slowly, in splintering fragments of grief. I was losing the person I loved most in the world and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

In one of my last precious moments with my mother, curled up beside her on the bed, while my sisters and father were getting dinner, or sleep, or simply walking their own patterns of distress around the hospice, she asked me to forgive her. I was immediately resentful at the thought that, now, with death twiddling his thumbs nearby, she felt the need for forgiveness.

Why, I said, my blind stupid tears welling up immediately, why do you need to be forgiven?

For all the times I made you cry.

Our faces were very close together, our voices little more than whispers.

Oh yes, I said, of course yes.

And, she continued… I forgive you. For all the times you made me cry.

We lay like this for moments or perhaps it was hours, this woman and her first born child, mentally snipping together at the black stitches of our past.

We had 26 years together, my mother and I.

When you forgive the pain caused by each other that’s a heck of a lot of gold.


Glenn Ingersoll said...

There's nothing like coming out the other side of real pain to make you feel good. I mean, it's not like the pain lasts forever, right? ... nothing does.

Lindy said...

I've got big walloping tears streaming down my cheeks. You write like you've been a mother for ages.

And on top of what you said about your parents, you've managed to put my own jumbled thoughts about our plans to try for a natural birth this time around far more eloquently than I have. Mostly, I don't mention it to people because when I have, the responses have been so hostile.

I hope we both are able to acheive the natural births we're hoping for!

fisher queen said...

Tears! Big fat tears! Beautiful post mom.

Dramalish said...

Such a beautiful post. It's almost obscene how regularly you pump them out.

It's funny that you get crap for wanting to go "natural." I got crap for wanting pain control. You can't win.

But you're right: there's no epi for those young teenage years. How lucky we are to have the opportunity to experience both the pleasure and pain our families bring us.

Urban Chick said...

OG, this is a wonderful post.

Having kids has made me review my childhood and see it from my parents' perspective.

I don't know how they contained the desire to say 'we don't want you to' when I told them I wanted to do a university course that would take me halfway round the world for an entire year without seeing them. And when I forgot to make my weekly call home because I was just too, you know, 'busy', they were probably beside themselves with worry.

Wow - I can't believe you've only six weeks to go! I am soooo excited for you...roll on, mid-August...


soralis said...

What a beautiful post!

Take care and hope you have a very easy birth!

Nico said...

You have such an amazing way with words. You've captured both the pain and pleasure of family life perfectly. I'm so glad that you and your mom got the chance to say those last few words to each other. My father passed away ~10 years ago, and I was in denial - no-one dies from pneumonia these days! So I never got to say a proper good-bye to him. And it still makes me sad all these years later.

Kris said...

That was an amazing post. Really beautiful.

mig bardsley said...

I so hope I get to see one of your plays one day OG.
I can't say how much I was moved by this post.
Thankyou for writing it.

Mony said...

It's a pleasure to read anything you write. You are truly gifted OG.
Thanks again.

Meg said...

Well, I was going to write about what a beautifyl post it was, but meh.

(it kinda was.)

4tops said...

Just beautifully written.

Anonymous said...

Meg is a funny girl.

My mother insists she loves us all the same, but that the bond between first-born and mother is something entirely its own. It has always made me feel lucky to be the first-born.

I was going to write that you're going to be a great mom. You already are.

MsPrufrock said...

Yeah, so I cried at work. Again. I should know better than to read your posts there.

6 short weeks away. Shit.

Anonymous said...

I read your post with great interest - and some admiration. But, as a mother currently being kicked in the teeth by an adult daughter, I am curious - have you forgiven yourself?

When your child is born, you will love that child more than life itself. You will do your best, day in, day out. When he/she walks away because their hormones are raging, will you take it in your stride? Do you think the tears your mother shed were equivalent to yours?

We bring our children up to be independant adults - to leave and be happy. I am currently finding out what it is like to bring them up to be selfish adults, who don't look back.

Maybe I'm just a lousy mother. Maybe it's the way of the world.

Anonymous said...

Went back and read an earlier post about missing your mum, and now feel terrible. Apologies - I'm dumping my own distress on this impersonal medium. Just very preoccupied with mother/daughter strife right now. I still love my daughter more than life. Not sure I can do the forgiving yet though.

Gabrielle said...

Gee, where was this friend of yours when his wife was recovering from a caesarean for him to think that what she went through was not as painful as a 'natural' birth? She must have been on some GOOOOOD drugs, my friend! Lining up for my own 'elective' caesarean tomorrow, so all I can say is bring on the drugs...and hand me a healthy baby. It doesn't matter how our babes enter this world, so long as they arrive safely and we are able to care for them in the best way we know how. People who judge others for their birthing choice (when you do have a choice) are missing the point of the exercise. Good on you for your healthy and open attitude. Have a plan, have a back up plan, but ultimately, have a baby!

So wonderful that you got to have that moment with your mother for forgiveness. How many of us reading your post are now thinking that we should pick up the phone or go visit and seek peace with loved ones??? I know I am. Love M

Jamila said...

big fat tears here too. Beautiful post. And my philosophy about natural birth as well.

NikkiNix said...

U GO GIRL! I'll keep you in my thoughts wishing you a pain-free quick, happy, healthy natural delivery :)

elle said...

That was so incredibly beautiful - wow. I'm so glad you had those moments with your mother. And you are right about pain, in all its shapes and sizes. I also wanted a natural delivery, and I got it. I won't go into it - your experience will be YOURS - but do stay open minded. I was rather closed and I think I paid the price. Good luck.

Chee Chee said...

Wonderful post. I am really glad that you and your mom had those precious moments to forgive each other.

running wildly said...

Yes, tears. Tears is what I have from reading your post. What incredible insight you have. Motherhood is the most wonderful blessing you will ever experience. Regardless of the amount of pain you endure, the birth of your child will be replayed in your mind over and over for years to come. It is beautiful. It is spiritual. It will be the best day of your life.

Lin said...

It's a complex, intricately woven fabric that binds mothers and their children. The strongest clue that it is strong and intact is the depth of love that is still felt by adult children and their parents, whether they are still with you or not. Parents forgive all the "Fuck You's and I FUCKING HATE YOU's" that almost adult kids fling so carelessly at them. Why? Because we remember hating our parents, too, and we also remember that the egocentricities of youth are but fleeting.

Because of your mother, you know how to mother. Those 26 years did their trick.

laura said...

Thank you ... that was really lovely. I think about my relationship with my mother, the times we made each other cry, and now I think about the moments I will have with my children. It's scary.

a mummy losing it said...

That was beautiful. Parenting a child is about rawness - raw love, raw grief, raw anger/frustration. There is so much strength in almost every emotion.

And why shouldn't you have your natural birth? I'm having my third in about 6 weeks too - people didn't believe I could do it, or understand why I wanted to, but I did and it was phenomenal. It was honest and hard and amazing and I felt like I could do anything once I'd done that...

Anonymous said...

To Lin

I agree about the love - but forgiveness? I'm not so sure. I was, on occasions, unkind to my mother. I don't know if she "forgave" - I do know I have not forgiven myself. That casual, selfish cruelty may be natural, possibly inevitable,- but it haunts! I love my daughter, but just this minute, I'm not forgiving. Forgiving is to condone, and I'n not sure that is right. I will, in time, forget, and the love will be all that's left.

averagedrinker said...

though it's hard for an individual to accept pain as you see it slowly eating you whole, loosen up and let it out. it's not healthy if you will just keep quiet and keep it uner your skin. cry it out, scream loud and try looking for your inner self during these times. my boyfriend from wealthymen lost hisparents from a plane crash last month. the moment he heard it, he was so devastated and he wanted to kill himself that time. good thing he still has his brothers and sisters, relatives and us(me and his gang) to keep him still composed.

Away2me said...

I cringe when I think of the moments of pain I caused my parents, mostly my father. I remember running away from home and he said, "if you leave this house, I'm calling the police" to which I replied in 16-year-old indignent style, "you call the fucking cops, see what I care". Aaah memories that slice to the core.

Now I stare at our newborn baby and I think....thank God we had a boy!

GLouise said...


Cried at work!

Demeter said...

You have brought tears to my eyes!
What a beautiful post! I too was 26 when I heard over the phone:"Would you forgive me?" before my mother passed. I am glad you did. You will give joy to your son and he will make you cry time and time again. And you will be a wonderful mom!

Vacant Uterus said...

"Now it was my turn to have my heart broken, and not fast or cleanly, but slowly, in splintering fragments of grief. I was losing the person I loved most in the world and there was nothing I could do to stop it."

That's exactly how I felt, helping my grandmother during the last two weeks of her life. Every day, another splinter.

I don't normally cry over posts or anything else. But oh, I'm crying now.