Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Gift of Faeries

Today I spent my day doing something I loathe and loving every minute of it.

But first, let me tell you a little bit about my jBird. She is my firstborn, so my pregnancy with her was filled with all of the excruciating clock-watching, book-reading, irritating all your friends with exhaustive explanations of your reproductive anatomy kind of wonder that first pregnancies usually are. Being a bit bookish and a bit of a perfectionist, I was going to do it the best. I read Spiritual Midwifery about 5 times and had the whole thing planned out. I knew better than anyone what my birth experience would be like - right down to the tie dyed, gender neutral onesie she would wear home from the hospital. Except that I didn't realize that it wasn't just my birth experience, it was our birth experience. The jBird's and mine.

My mental images of wandering the moors in my flowing white gown, gracefully pausing to exult in the next labor pain until it was time to squat and catch her myself while all of the leprechauns looked on - or whatever in the world I thought I would be doing - were completely (and thankfully) shattered before we even checked into the birthing center. She had her own agenda. An agenda that involved bouncing up and down, turning sideways, pooping in her water, completely tangling herself in her cord and hanging out for 17 hours inside despite my uterus' repetitive insistence that she move down. I'm pretty sure she waited until I actually voiced the words "I give up" before she decided to come blasting through. So tangled was she, that the midwife lost her heartbeat while she was on the way out and my baby girl flopped, blue and lifeless into a gray and exhausted world that April morning.

In my delirium, I mistook my husband's sobs for tears of relief and joy. I demanded that she be given to me. Why was it taking so long? Why wasn't she crying? For an extremely visceral few minutes, the flurry of activity beside me took shape and I understood why no one was paying attention to me. And then, finally: her voice. A righteous scream. As my mother-in-law said while watching through the crack of the door: "She's pissed!" That scream that grabbed every nerve in my body, cut through the haze of exhaustion and adrenalin, and named me "Mama". I have never wanted to hold anyone so badly in my life. And she has kind of been the boss of me ever since.

I threw out the books when she was 6 months old. They didn't make sense, they didn't apply to her. She never slept, but she rarely cried, either. She was content to look at everything in the whole world and smile. She was nearly 10 pounds when she was born and strong. She rarely wanted to cuddle. Even nursing, which she loved, was not a particularly cuddly affair. As she grew older, the personality that fought so hard to make it in those first few minutes continued to assert itself. She is so much a part of me, but wholly outside of my existence. She started talking ridiculously early and never really went through a baby talk phase and never really stopped talking, either. As soon as she was able, she kicked my gender neutral nonsense to the curb and embraced pink and frilly and princesses and accessories with abandon, single-handedly solving that particular nature vs. nurture debate.

She's the pink to my gray. The extrovert to my introvert. The confident to my retiring. The polite to my grumbly. But she and I have just enough in common to drive each other insane. Opinionated and right? Yup. Emotional and explosive? Sometimes. Ridiculously high expectations of ourselves? Oh yes. But she has been the balm to my ego. I am so ridiculously proud of her, yet she humbles me daily. I take no credit for her good qualities - they have been there since birth. It has merely been my job to encourage those as they emerge more fully. I didn't make her who she is. She came that way. I walked into her bedroom to check on her the other night and she sat up, still asleep, and said
"Mama, can you sense it?"
"Sense what, honey?"
"Just everything. In the whole entire world."
And then she rolled over and went back to sleep. That pretty much sums her up.

So today. We had a very rainy day with not a whole lot to do. The Chief Lou was waiting around on a fire wood delivery and the monkeys were about to strangle each other. "Hey, jBird, let's go run a special errand, just you and me." Our special errand was to go 30 minutes north of my comfort zone into the suburbs where the cars get bigger and the bumper stickers get scarier and visit the brand new American Girl store. We don't normally indulge faddish playthings, but we reconciled ourselves to one of these dolls under the auspices of it being vaguely literary and because the jBird is a good kid who rarely has to follow the crowd. So today, in an explosion of hot pink and orange and screaming girls, my wee girl and I navigated around this wonderland of doll clothes and accessories that even I will admit are beautiful. It was really my worst sort of nightmare experience: mass consumption, the mall, lots of other people's children (girls, no less!), crowds, the mall, the suburbs, the mall.

But watching this rare little Bird's delight was worth every second of it. She had a designated amount of money to spend and a few ideas of what she was looking for. She asked for no more. She walked methodically around the store, weighing her options. She politely asked one of the sales clerks if an item was in stock and then calmly shrugged when it wasn't and thanked her anyway. After inspecting everything she decided on "the most beautiful gown in the world" and very seriously took it to the counter to pay for it. I, of course, had to get the accessories pack that went with it. When she busted me trying to slip it into the bag and pay for it on the sly, she insisted "No, Mama. I don't need that. You don't have to do that." And then we went out for sushi and discussed racism over lunch.

My relationship has never been what you would call comfortable with my little girl. We love each other with an intensity that often tips to extremes. I recognized very early on that she would not just be a miniature version of myself, that there were things in our respective worlds that we just wouldn't understand. I have tried with a mother's heart to accept and respect these differences every single day of her life, not to try to change her to how I think she should be, but encourage her to be who she is. Some days I'm better at this than others. She literally tore me open when she was born and when they patched me up, they stitched a little bit of her into me that burns white hot and aches for her.

A few years ago, I was talking to an Italian friend of mine about her. She asked me how the jBird was born, and when I told her, she nodded and said "That explains it perfectly!" My friend told me that in Italy there's an old wives' tale that children who have traumatic births are touched by faeries. That in surviving that first few crucial minutes, the faeries carry them and give them special gifts. And that's my jBird: the twinkling, smiling light in my life that I will never quite catch, never quite hold, but will grace me with her presence nonetheless and name me "Mama".  My gift from the faeries.


  1. What an incredibly beautiful story. Touched by faeries- a lovely tale.

  2. Ah, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. You are blessed to have each other.

  3. That really is an incredibly beautiful love story.

  4. I see that Jewels and I are thinking alike tonight :)

  5. I loved this piece. I kept a journal during the time my oldest son was born, and wrote twenty pages on that thirty-six hour period of time, between water breaking, and arrival. Certainly the most exhilarating event of my life.

  6. I have a daughter like that, too. She was tangled up and lost oxygen at birth and the midwife had to mess with her to get her breathing. Her angry first cry was one of the most beautiful sounds I've ever heard. And the midwife said, "There are worse things than being pissed." She weighed 9lbs, 8 oz and no one can believe I delivered her naturally. I hadn't heard about faeries, but she was born with the caul on her face. She loves all things pink and sparkly. I say she was born with glitter in her veins. And in a fight between her and either of her brothers (one older than her) my money would be on her every time.


  7. How frightening that must have is a beautiful story about a beautiful girl. I always find it amazing how children how who they are, there are certain qualities they are just born with.

  8. What a beautiful story, and so well written. Your daughter will love reading this someday when she is older. My post today was inspired by reflection on a similar relationship with my daughter- great minds think alike.

  9. I've had a love for all things American Girl since I was nine, I got Samantha for my birthday when I was ten. I was so happy! So glad you and your daughter have that relationship.
    Beautiful. As always.

  10. Agreed, a beautiful love story! Sonny Boy taught me from the very beginning not to think I knew how things were going to go. Always a surprise in store with that boy and, yet, he turned out all right :) His sister, who I thought was going to be his brother, was about as girly as a little girl could get - delicate, pink and purple, sparkles, and, yes, American Girl dolls. She still surprises me all the time and she has turned me from a former hippy chick into a girly girl too. Fun!

  11. You take my breath away. Wonderful, beautiful story. And there really is something unexplainable about a daughter, isn't there? I never would have believed it until I had my own.

  12. What a beautiful story. Goosebumps and everything. I think you own me with your words. Truly.

  13. Goosebumps and tears here. Gorgeously written.


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