Recently I heard a report on NPR about how the USA has the worst rates of maternal deaths during childbirth in the developed world. It was one of several NPR reports on the subject, and it stopped me in my tracks, esp. now when my daughter, Suzanne, so recently gave birth at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. I was amazed-- to the point of being annoyed-- at all the precautions that were taken-- before, during, and even days after the birth. Every step of the way she and the baby were monitored and cared for extensively. I thought, Wow, this is too much. Now I am feeling enormously grateful for this great medical facility and all the expertise she and the baby have right here. And I am also amazed--both by the risks of complications and the risk of being a critical or know-it-all grandmother.
I can't help thinking back-- one of the worst times I spent with my own mother was when she arrived shortly after Suzanne was born. Instead of helping, she spent her days telling me what I wasn't doing right and complaining to the neighbors and the milkman and the postman and my father-in-law and, well, anyone who came to our door. My daughter is sleeping in the living room! she would announce. And so is the baby! (I was sent home eight hours after delivery and was not allowed to go to my upstairs bedroom for a few days). She's nursing on demand instead of on a schedule! That baby latches on and never lets go, my mother would tell them. And then, if my mother had a captive audience, she would launch into an explanation of how Suzanne was three weeks late. Three whole weeks! They would never let a cow carry a calf that long! she would practically shriek.
A dairy farmer, my mother always compared her daughters to heifers.
Really, I could not wait for her to leave me in peace. But, to be fair-- my mother probably was somewhere on the autism spectrum, and I should have known better than to allow her to come so soon. Nurturing infants and new moms was not her strong suit. Years later, when my children were older and in school, she was a great advisor. She had such faith in my children, far greater than she ever had in me. Whenever Suzanne had trouble at school, she would scoff, There are just so many stupid teachers. Don't listen to them. Suzanne is fine. She thought a lot of aspects of schools were silly. And that parents and teachers worried far too much about when their children read or did their multiplication tables or whatever else they were supposed to do. She would say simply, When the fire's lit, it burns. Then she would assure me that Suzanne's mind was both lit and burning.
But I still wonder how and why she had six children, esp. when she didn't really care for infants. She even said to me once that she would have had more children if she'd married younger. I would have liked eight, she confessed, her eyes dreamy. That was the day she told me me how she timed all her children's births--just like she timed the births of calves.
BIRTH by Louise Erdrich
When they were wild
When they were not yet human
When they could have been anything,
I was on the other side ready with milk to lure them,
And their father, too, each name a net in his hands.