I am the product of a mother who gave birth at 15. Being just a child herself, she didn’t have much background knowledge to pass down to me the essentials of what makes us girls…well, girls. I never wore dresses, and I still do not. I never wore bows in my hair or frilly Holly-Hobby-type pinafores to school. My feet never landed in a pair of fancy side-buckled shoes that the rest of the fifth-grade girls sported come the first day of school. I was probably one of the very few girls in middle school who didn’t shave her legs (which earned me the nickname Chewbacca) or wear makeup, even though deep down I wanted to have those things because the other girls so effortlessly did.
But more than that, though, my classmates had female role models who instilled in them the feminine qualities that make us the wondrous creatures we are. My mom, not having had those things herself, made the delicate and life-altering choice to have a baby instead of growing into a woman herself. In my adulthood, I’m convinced that maybe this is why I wasn’t such a girly girl myself.
This formative experience heavily influenced a few things in my life. The first was purposely waiting until my early 30s to have children. The second was wishing and praying that God would recognize my handicap in not being fully versed in all things feminine and bless me with sons instead of daughters. And He did: two boys, who are now in their teens. I would have been equally blessed with either, but wanting to do a girl justice, I knew that I was probably better suited for the easiness of boys. The obligatory t-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap ensemble? That I can handle. The rough and tumble playing? I can handle that too. The “hey mom, pull my finger!” I find hilarious. I build a mean fort, know all the lyrics to Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine, and not a whole lot scared me back then.
Yes, I was built to be a boy mom.
But you know how they say that God has a wicked sense of humor? Well, He also has a way of making His point, which I would learn on February 11th of 2016. That’s the day I reached for the stapler on my desk and felt something shift inside of me that caused me to fall back into my seat in utter shock. I have a tumor, I thought to myself. I frantically picked up the phone to call my husband and tell him that there was something seriously wrong with me. He obliged and listened to my self-diagnosis. He countered with a question that I found so asinine that I laughed out loud, despite my health concern.
“Could you be pregnant?”
I was 45. The past several years we had tried and struggled, as many older couples do, to become pregnant. Where had he been? Didn’t he remember the doctor’s visit in August of 2015 when the doctor suggested we give up trying and counseled that the five children between us were blessings enough? Didn’t he hear her tell me that she wouldn’t be putting me on birth control because I had less than a 3% chance of getting pregnant? Couldn’t he see how deflated I had become at hearing that I was just too old to become pregnant? He was lucky that a landline separated us at the moment because I was ready to shank him in the groin for the suggestion. He told me to leave work and come straight home, which I did.
When I arrived, he had a pregnancy test waiting for me…and here I am today, writing about my re-entry into motherhood at 45.
It was a traumatic delivery. Through the short duration of the pregnancy I was being treated for placenta previa, but come delivery day, the doctors realized I actually had something called placenta accreta, a much more serious condition which only happens in two of every 1,000 births. If you’re wondering how I go about defying such incredible odds time and again, I wonder that too.
I should play the lottery.
Placenta accreta happens when the placenta invades and attaches to the uterine wall, sometimes even the bladder. The biggest risk this condition poses is the significant amount of blood loss that occurs. As my OBGYN recounts, a team of over 20 health care professionals would fight for over four hours to save my life after my daughter was delivered by Caesarean and immediately taken to the NICU. In attendance, one of the most renowned oncologists in the U.S., called in by the hospital team to take over only in the most complicated of medical situations.
I don’t recall very much about that day. But I do recall the worry on my doctor’s face as she said she would be performing an emergency hysterectomy to stop the bleeding and that she would also have to put me under. I also remember turning to the anesthesiologist, a handsome young doctor who looked to be plucked from the cast of Grey’s Anatomy, and asking him to tell my children that I love them. He reassuringly whispered, “You can tell them yourself when you wake up.” I remember his gentle stroke on my arm as he told me to count backwards from ten.
In all, they would pump a total of 18 units of blood into my body while the doctor team tried to stop the bleeding and maintain my blood pressure. The anesthesiologist would monitor my blood pressure and announce to the team that I was “thready,” a term used to describe a declining pulse. The doctor would leave the operating room to explain to my husband that it didn’t look good and that the team would continue to work on me. My husband would recall the uncertainty in her voice and the tears in her eyes.
I don’t do anything profound for a living. I’m not a doctor; I don’t research cures for cancer; nor do I lead peace-keeping missions in war-ridden countries. For as many things as I have accomplished in my life, I have also faltered a great deal. I was and am just an ordinary mom faced with an extraordinary circumstance, whose life on this random day was left in the hands of the strangers in that hospital room. Beautiful, under-appreciated, overworked strangers.
For some reason that day in May, God decided that He wasn’t finished with me yet.
I heard a profound quote the other day: “Sometimes our children have to finish our journeys.” I love to think I am on the journey now to finishing what my 15-year old frightened yet resolved mother started with me. What I lacked in learning about the intricate nuances of growing up a girl, she made up for in making the ultimate sacrifice.
No, I wasn’t raised to learn the things you were probably taught as a girl. I never learned how to bake, don’t know how to sew a button. I would never grow up to have tea parties or wear pigtails, nor did I learn how to dress with an inkling of fashionable sense or aptitude. I never learned how to properly accessorize and never once visited a spa with my own mother…
But 45 years later, now that I have my own daughter, I will.