With Child
Marni Asplund-Campbell, editor

IV.
Children

__________

All Parts of Myself
Karen Farb

[p.99]I am the mother of a three-year-old. He is, I suspect, like most three-year-old boys—past the physical capacities of the toddler years, yet still a bit entrenched in the two-year-old Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Sweet songs, hugs and kisses sprinkled with curiosity, new words, bursts of energy, small discoveries for hours, then seemingly from nowhere, the tyrant rears his power through kicks, hits, spits: everything aimed at me. He is exquisite in living: passionate about chocolate, “softs,” his binky, snacks, his small table, sleeping, hiding, scary noises, and the mystery of Bambi’s mother. As a baby, he was joyous, reveled in breastfeeding, loved to be snuggled, held-yet always quite adamant about trying to stand—even at just a few weeks.

I am sure the first year of his life was the best year of my life. He was a big, bouncy, fat baby. “Tangible joy was felt,” said a friend as she described visiting me in the hospital. Just a few hours old, he would look around the room and put his arm over his eyes, too bright. And I would lift him with burning pain at my stitches and look at this beautiful life, fragile with its newness. I held his body, him, this new person. This was familiar, the joy, the wonder. I’d done this before. Someone else I held, another baby captured my heart with a surprise sweep of love, simultaneous joy and burning pain. Both present and past, inseparable these lives from me and yet each distinct, different.

I had a baby girl. She too shied away from lights. She preferred my skin to the blankets she was wrapped in, though I was afraid to unwrap her. Her birth was much less complicated than his. I lay in the hospital with her on me, not wanting to move for fear of missing a second of feeling her, being with her, and the joy and the pain that lay there with us. Still, like a photograph, I remember wanting to hold that feeling. But I moved, I moved and the connection was severed.

[p.100]I was a freshman at Brigham Young University. I had all the world to look forward to: I overpacked my small dorm room, taught Relief Society in my ward, and I found that I loved my humanities classes despite the “can’t get a job with that degree” counsel from my parents. I had a sizable interest in boys. I moved out of the dorms for spring term and found myself in a very controlling relationship. I was young and didn’t really think the situation was threatening—I studied, went dancing, went to movies. And then I was date raped.

At the time nobody at BYU was talking about date rape. I thought rape was something that happened at the blade of a stranger’s knife. With nowhere to turn, I turned against myself. This is what I was taught to do: I was the woman, I was to blame, I was guilty. The only recourse was to go to the bishop. Unfortunately the man got to him first. When it came my turn to go in, I wasn’t asked what happened, I was disfellowshipped. Looking back, I was so unsure about what had happened myself that I wonder if I could have even described to the bishop my unwillingness, my fear. I thought every sexual encounter with someone you know was supposed to be a desired one.

I thought the incident was over. I was disfellowshipped: I could repent and get back on track. The weeks passed and spring finals were approaching and I found myself unable to eat anything but baked potatoes until about 4:00 in the afternoon. My period hadn’t started yet—though I wasn’t worried since this was often the case. But somewhere I knew. Some place inside of me I knew that the worst thing had happened to me: I was pregnant but could not acknowledge that it might be true. This went on for days until finally I walked into the hospital during their Thursday free testing hours. The sight of the needle puncturing my skin made me throw up.

I was driving to Salt Lake City to have dinner with a friend that afternoon when we pulled over off the freeway and called from a pay phone to check for the test results. I wasn’t able to stand at the phone and call with the desert heat swelling up in my stomach, so my friend dialed. I remember sitting in her passenger seat, door wide open in the dry wind of June, listening to her ask for my test results. All I remember was her question into the phone: “Could you please check those results again!” The question swept through me throwing my head back, screaming towards the heavens.

[p.101] Somehow word got out. My bishop called me and I went in, again following the man who had done this to me. This time, again without any questions, I was counseled to marry. I looked around the room and with all of the strength I could muster, I said I will not make two mistakes out of one. I will not let this event determine the rest of my life. Those words now haunt me. I was naive to think that this event would not affect the rest of my life.

A few memories of that period of my life are particularly strong. I remember the desperation—desperation I had never known before that and have rarely felt since. Desperation to turn back the clock, to have time stop—stop long enough for me to think. But time doesn’t stop, and pregnancies grow larger with time, despite my prayers to God to make this go away, to miscarry. The only way I could make it all stop was to put it out of my mind. I worked very hard at acting like it wasn’t real-despite my changing body, growing belly. I separated my mind from my body. And so I continued to work, socialize, go to singles’ wards with my clothes tightening across my stomach. Time was crushing me—crushing my insides, crushing my life.

I finally broke down and was silently whisked away by my parents and bishop to another home of a bishop far enough away. But I have never known such loneliness, such desperation, such remorse, regret, self-hatred. I punished myself daily for ever getting involved with this man. I punished myself for doing something, everything wrong. The world was no longer a place where I could be an agent. The only control I could get was through my self-punishment. Perhaps then all would be better. The baby was my penitence, and as soon as it was birthed I would be forgiven and go back to my normal life. My bishop confirmed my self-punishment by decreeing that only after the birth could I take the sacrament again.

I told my social worker at LDS Social Services that I felt like a surrogate mother. She said that this was a good sign, that it meant I was dealing with this well. She wasn’t concerned when I explained that I wasn’t doing so well—that I just had to wait for my body to get through this pregnancy. She didn’t mention that I might be repressing my feelings, that you can’t just separate your mind from your body and that some day all of this would blow up in my face. She also didn’t prepare me for the life stopping emotions of motherhood and the ambivalence [p.102]I might feel at the thought of giving my baby up. She just cheered me on with discussions about what type of parents I would want for my child, how my baby would be going to a good LDS home, and what I could do after the baby was born. And these were things that I did want to talk about. I so longed to be at college with my friends, taking classes, doing the things that a nineteen-year-old does.

I was working hard to continue both my education (I dyed my hair and took night classes at a local university) as well as my spiritual growth. And I felt very spiritual. I didn’t question my bishop’s notion that I could take the sacrament again—be forgiven—only after the birth. I came to realize that I felt that I, as a pregnant woman, was unworthy, and so was the baby. I couldn’t tell anyone the truth. With dyed hair, fake glasses, a cubic zirconium on my ring finger, I told everyone at school that I was married to a man who had a lot of business in Argentina. I had letters with air-mail stamps to prove it as I continued my correspondence with a few missionaries in South America. I was just house-sitting for a year. Even my siblings believed the story.

Soon before the birth I could no longer put off what was happening—both physically and emotionally. I was big, with a big hiccuping baby inside, and I loved this little ball that so obviously stuck out of me. Her birth was beautiful. I paced the hospital corridors at night, utterly confused by my feelings. I thought that her birth would be my delivery from purgatory. Instead it felt like a rock was crushing me. I loved this baby, my daughter. She was peaceful and had a beautiful little nose. Her gentle, warm little body just fit into my arms. I was being crushed by the weight of what I felt like I had to do. I had to get on with my life, yet my life was also cradled in my arms. How could I both care for a child and go on with my life? The two seemed absolutely opposed. No one had talked to me about the possibility of keeping her save one friend. She was the only one that suggested that I could keep this dear baby.

I walked out of the hospital doors alone, not understanding what I had given up nor what an effect this had on me. I mourned for days. It rained outside and the ocean down the hill was black. I left my window open and the water flooded the sill, warping the wood. I was completely overtaken by grief. Heartache filled my stomach, physically sweeping through me like ocean swells, currents of remorse. Grief and confusion [p.103]exhausted my worn body and mind. I went back to school and believed whole-heartedly that life was linear—that we go from one event to another, each event discrete and separate from another. Within a year I fell in love with someone who also was interested in travel, schooling, arts, and I married him and found the stability and the life I thought I needed. I didn’t think that my marriage and my repugnancy towards my past had anything to do with the date rape and adoption.

I went on, lived abroad, moved to new exciting cities. While traveling through Europe, a friend we had just met reported to be a clairvoyant, looked me in the eye and told me that I should forget about what troubling thing had happened to me in the past. I was shocked—how could she know?—I thought I had forgotten about it. Was my behavior revealing something I thought was not a part of my life anymore? Returning to the states, my husband started graduate school. I worked hard to put him through school and when he was nearly done with his degree, I applied to school. I was accepted into a fairly prestigious graduate program, which surprised even me. I spent the week sharing the news with family and friends that I was going back to school. I was making a skirt for myself and found my waist had grown an inch in a week. I knew it. Again I lost control of my life. My period was late, and though I knew, I tried to think nothing of it—this irregularity had certainly happened before. I ignored my body. I could not talk about the possibility of pregnancy. At 5:55 a.m. on a spring day, I found out I was pregnant for the second time, and went screaming into the bedroom.

For all the hell my pregnancies were, I must say that the children I have birthed have given me indescribable joy. The joy and the pain live together inside of me. My time with my first child was very short—I was a mother to her in the womb, during her birth, and for a few very short days thereafter. I know that mothering is much more than pregnancy, birth, and a stay in the hospital. And yet mothering does start with time shared between two people in one body, a split of that relationship, birthing into a new one. And then a long relationship, built and negotiated between two separate beings. Through my wondrous and joyous relationship with my son, I have learned what I have lost with my daughter. Now that I know what mothering is, what a child is, I have finally been able to grieve my loss of my daughter. This has been torture because she isn’t completely lost, she is out there somewhere. And now [p.104]I think that I am enough for her. I am a mommy and how I wish I could be her mommy too.

Though this essay is about motherhood—it is about my whole life. Motherhood does not just happen in a woman’s life, it happens to a woman’s life, fundamentally altering it forever. Although I have many other things that define my life, my work, my interests, my motherhood is what shapes all other decisions. Perhaps the idea of determining our lives is a myth that ignores the realities of birth, of caring for another, of mothering in its many forms. Every day I balance how much time to spend with my son and how much time to spend on my studies. I revisit my decisions constantly, checking which worked and which didn’t.  This constant reconsideration does drive me a bit up the wall. How nice it would be to just decide that I am going to raise my child with a prescribed set of gender ideas or life ideals. Or that I am going to spend this much time with my son every day or this much time away from him. But I suppose I feel that I have already lost a child and a part of myself once—and so now I am working to make sure that I keep both my child and myself.

This is tricky—to keep an eye on not losing myself. I was taught by example that a woman is to sacrifice herself for her family. It is easy to fall back on—I know how to do it. But I don’t think such mothering is necessary or beneficial. While I was cared for and loved, I never knew my mother as a person: her interests, her likes and dislikes, what her needs were. She rarely did anything for herself. She let her children and her husband determine her life. And so for myself as well as for my child, I am trying to balance his needs with my own. And I am going back, reaching back to find who I was as a girl. Going back and trying to embrace the girl who was sure of herself, that understood she should trust herself. Back when I understood that we are all fundamentally spiritual beings and so we should value listening to the authority of our own voice. I have valued the authority of others—church authority, academic journals, parents, professors. And now I have been working towards finding and listening to my voice.

Taking an active role in constructing my life means really listening to myself, and acknowledging all parts of myself—even the parts I didn’t want to acknowledge. It also means listening to those around me and understanding what I want, what my child wants and negotiating [p.105]this with my family and with God. I think we are accustomed to finding a path and passively going down it—no further need for questioning, for doubt, for self-appraisal. Life and relationships require constant questioning and checking. It is constant work—figuring where I am, where others are around me, and where it is I am and we are headed.

But isn’t this motherhood? The constant work of checking and questioning where I am, where my child is, whether it be a physical place, or a psychological or emotional one. And then appraising where it is that I as a parent am, and trusting where I should go or negotiate with my son—us, the relationship of mother-child—to go from there. This is motherhood. Being open to all parts of myself, my child, others-being open to past and to possibilities, to both joy and pain. Allowing myself to feel and know the contradictions and allowing my child to slowly learn the complexities of emotion, reality, choice. I’m allowing the distant experiences of my life to come up to the surface and color my thoughts, my feelings, my actions, my relationships—like a palette, changing, mixing, unfolding. The present is never without past. The double-vision is not double-vision after all, but a kaleidoscope of color, pattern, and emotion alive and unfolding within.