Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Resonance, Attunement, And Presence

An outdoor restaurant in summer: A young couple with two children, one about three, the other about four months. The mother nurses the baby, snuggled in her lap. For the longest time, the baby's face is buried in the breast and under parts of her mother's blouse. But her hand is playing with her mother's the whole time. Later, her head surfaces, and she sits on her mother's lap, gazing at her. The mother makes cooing noises, and tilts her head slightly. The baby opens her mouth, making a perfect circle, her blue eyes wide open too, drinking in her mother's face. Her eyes are so open, her mouth is so open, her face is so open, she is an incarnation in this moment of pure presence. The eyes are radiating presense. The mouth is quivering with presence.

The mother puts her head down and touches it to her baby's forehead, then moves it back. The baby smiles. There is a complete force field connecting these two. This baby is in the orbit of her mother in this moment, and the two are speaking in a thousand ways, on a thousand wavelengths, across their bodies where they touch, across the air between them.

...As her older sister sits at the table, I can feel that she too is at home in her body and in the force field of her family. It is not even that they interact that much. They don't. But they form an inseparable whole in which she is completely at home.
--Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, page 189

There is an ideal of mothering* that assumes that babies are born one at a time. This isn't a medical ideal --although the medical ideal exists and is, in fact, more easily asserted, defended, and accepted -- but a psychological, even spiritual, ideal. It is an ideal of infancy, the elevation of an idea about what mother and baby create between themselves in the first hours, weeks, and months of a newborn life. It is the ideal of the singular gaze.

No mother, not even the mother of a first-born singleton, achieves the ideal. Colic, sleeplessness, hormones, employment, mealtime and laundry, they all conspire to muddy the flow between baby and mother, to fracture that heart-locking gaze across a thousand distractions. Yet the ideal exists and persists, not just as a weapon to bludgeon imperfect women but as a spiritual attainment that most mothers and babies approach and breathe upon, if only for fleeting seconds. It is this spiritual ideal of mothering, of infinite and boundless and all-encompassing love, that causes infertile women so much pain. It is this ideal that hovers out of reach as cycle follows cycle, paperwork confounds, and pain multiples over years.

For mothers of multiples, it can seem that the ideal becomes a thing forever out of reach. Just as the ideal, the madonna image, the vision of perfect oneness, hovered over our infertility, it goes right on hovering over our lives with multiple newborns. In every second spent holding one infant, drinking in one infant, falling in love with one infant, another infant waits, filled with the same longing for mother love, filling mother with the same longing for the singular gaze. The mother is always and forever divided, not between children with different needs and infinite varied desires, but between infants whose needs and desires coincide, overlap, entangle, and confuse. It is heart-wrenching. It causes physical pain.

Losing my chance for the ideal filled me with rage. My fury and my grief were boundless, the bitter apex of my infertility, the achievement of a vision forever tainted by what would never be. This was my theme and my refrain for months after the babies were born: look at the world we have lost. Look at what we will never have, and never be.

Other parents of multiples turned their backs on me in the moments I dared to confess my grief and my rage. I heard so many platitudes, so many dismissals, so many admonishments: How dare I feel grief when my babies were happy and whole? Don't you love your children? Think of the special bond they'll have among themselves.** The advantages will outweight the drawbacks, and don't you dare believe anything else. For God's sake, grow up and get over yourself.

Well, the children grew up, and I have mostly gotten over myself. But I refuse to believe that minimizing my pain helped me overcome it. Denying my loss didn't help me feel it less. When I held one baby at the breast, when I settled one baby close upon me, my eyes immediately sought another. The baby nearest me was the baby least in need of me in that moment, and my gaze was forever divided. I wrote that I held my babies enough, that I had enough time alone with each of them, but I lied. It was never, ever enough, and I forever felt divided. I see a friend with her newborn singleton and a tiny piece of my heart still aches.

What brings me comfort is this: the mothers of singletons, unlike the mothers of multiples, admit my loss. They know what they have, and they know the magnitude of not having it. The simple admission, "I can't imagine having to share this time with another baby," soothes my soul.

*I hate making nouns into verbs through gerends. I hate the term "mothering" especially. But it's the only word available that brings this particular experience of mine into sharp relief. I typically want to include Calder and use the word parent, but this ideal is an ideal by and of and for mothers, and I don't want that to be lost.

**Obviously my frame of reference is incomplete, but I don't believe that the bond between multiples is better than the bond between singletons. Undoubtedly it's different, but it's not better. For every mother of multiples who marvels at the laughing voices of her babies babbling to each other in their cribs, there's a mother of two singletons marvelling as her oldest child teaches her youngest child a new word. Is the delighted laugh of a baby discovering her twin any more delightful than that of a baby smiling back for the first time at his older sister? Special bonds between siblings are precious and delightful and I'm grateful not to face the pain and sorrow of secondary infertility, wanting as I did more than one child. But special bonds between siblings are more than, different than, bonds between mothers and infants, and one does not replace the other.


Moxie said...

And here I've been silent, not wanting to cause any more pain. I figured this out on the second day of El Chico's life. That I couldn't do it with more than one baby at a time. Not the work of it, but the bonding of it. When I felt like even he wasn't getting enough sometimes, because I had to do things like go to the bathroom and eat. How could multiples get enough? How could mothers of multiples get enough?

I can't imagine that other mothers of multiples can't acknowledge this. To not talk about it seem, well like gaslighting, or the cruelest form of hazing.

Anonymous said...

I have always maintained that the hardest part of being the mother to triplets is NOT the work/physical labor, the diapers, or the utter, complete lack of sleep. It was and still is having to divide myself among three children. Having three children who each have their own needs, and need those met at the same time as their siblings (but in different fashions because they are individual people) is the hardest thing. Having to learn which three things I can do at once, and when do I need to stop multi-multi-tasking and concentrate on one child.

I'd say the close second hard thing of mothering triplets is having to immediately & forever revoke all dreams I'd had of being pregnant, childbirth, and motherhood. Yes, I've made new dreams come true, but to have to so immediately put out of my existence all semblance of "normalcy" is a very wrenching thing. Probably something that drives some women to opt for SR (because they can't let go of their dreams of "normal", can't accept that a new normal might, in fact, be better & bigger than they could dream or desire).

One thing that was a HUGE motivating factor in me maintaining my resolve to nurse my babies was that I was unwilling to give that dream up. I'd given up all other dreams, all other expectations. I was going to be danged if I'd give that up, too. Especially since "everyone" told me I couldn't do it. Which is, in itself, something else that makes being a mother to triplets so hard - having to endure the endless, ignorant, negative, dire predictions about what we can or cannot to, the kind of Lleh our lives will be like, because we're going to have three babies at a time instead of one.

I probably have annoyed the heck out of you, Jody, with my almost endless enthusiasm at being a mother to triplets. I'm sorry. It's genuine, though, and here's what I think: Probably one reason I don't have the same, deep-seated sense of loss you feel is that my babies didn't have to endure the NICU, which means I didn't have to endure the NICU. As time goes on I realize more & more how the NICU experience creates a deep chasm of pain & separation between mother & infant(s). I hope I never said anything to you which was hurtful, and if I did I apologize.



Anonymous said...

So I assume that this post is partly in response to my comment on Tertia's board re: twin bonds. Of course singletons have great bonds as well, but Tertia has twins so I didn't think that was helpful to point out. I never meant to imply that one was better than the other or that sibling bond replaces mom bond, just that it was something special that her kids will have.

Yes, it's hard to have multiples and feel divided. But I hate, hate, HATE when other people feel sorry for me. I despise comments like "I could never do it!" and "I'll never transfer more than one embryo!" that imply that I have drawn the short straw. I hate when people assume that my girls are being cheated. They get less of me, less of my husband, less stuff, less love, less attention. It makes me feel like I shouldn't even bother; it will never be "even," they'll always be resentful and short-changed. I don't need more guilt, dammit.

Bah. Sorry to be so angry. Obviously this thought is a sore point with me.


Anonymous said...

I get what Linda says. I hate people who tell me they don't know how I do it with two. People--parents of multiples "do it" because we have to. But at the same time, I spent a lot of time resenting the fact that I had two babies at once. Jody, you put it more eloquently than I ever did but it doesn't change the resentment. The guilt that followed this was also profound--how dare I feel resentment when I had waited all this time to get pregnant, to have babies. But it was there, and denying it did not make it go away--heck sometimes when I see how easily other moms transport singletons all over the place I still resent it.

Leann said...

When people say to me "I don't know how you do it" I usually agree because many days I don't know how I do it either. Often 7pm hits and I can't believe I've made it through another day. Having twins is really 4x the work of having a singleton (I do know, I had one of my babies home for a long time before I had both home; having only one was easy in comparison). Yet, I don't feel my twins are missing my attention because they're twins, often one is missing my attention because the other is so needy. Perhaps my little boy got used to having me to himself for those weeks that his sister was still in the hospital, or perhaps it's just a personality thing, but he wants my attention more, and he knows how to get it, so he does. As I snuggle my cuddly boy who just cried huge tears when I didn't pick him up as I walked past him, I gaze at his sister, content with her pacifier, content to roll around on the floor and I feel sorry for her. Sorry that it's so easy for me to let her play there independently. Truthfully, she's not as cuddly, she's more rigid, he's like a big teddy bear, she loves to snuggle, but he cries monster tears for it. I'm just glad she's her Daddy's little girl, it's obvious he gravitates to her the most. There is a reason parents come in two's and thank goodness when it comes to multiples there are mothers AND fathers.

Anonymous said...

I had one baby after years of infertility, then I got the NICU experience too. Then I had secondary infertility which went unresolved ie I now have one child, who is six.
As he grows up and the baby-time gets further away, I find myself thinking about how fortunate he and I have been to have that close one-to-one relationship in which I did feel that I made it up to him for his very rocky start in life and initial separation from me, his mother. However, at the same time, I have daily pangs about not having been able to have another child. The pangs are more for me than for him. I think he's fine being an only child, that's what he knows and is happy with. I of course feel that he's so wonderful that having another would be wonderful (though of course I'd have ambivalence about mothering a baby, as I did with him.)
No babyhood is perfect and no mother is perfect either.