From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

It Just Isn’t Fair

I’d wanted a child for so long. I’d endured the diabetes testing and the pelvic exams. I’d cried during my ultrasound when I saw my son for the first time, and I’d laughed through the baby shower my sisters had given me. I was thrilled with my pregnancy, but now, as I prepared the bedroom down the hall for my new son, try as I might, I couldn’t shake the thought: It just isn’t fair.

As I got closer to motherhood, thoughts of my own mother came more and more frequently. My mother had died of cancer when I was thirteen. In my memory, she had been the very best mother in the whole world— patient, kind and loving. She had enjoyed her children, caring for us and meeting our every need the way only a mother can.

Her death at the age of forty-one had been no beautiful, poignant Love Story death; she’d fought hard for her life and the struggle had consumed the last year of her time with us. After she died, I missed her with a bottomless ache in my soul that never went away. When I graduated from high school I pushed away thoughts of my mother. I tried to ignore how unfair it felt that she wasn’t there to see me get my diploma. At my wedding, I deliberately closed the emotional door to memories of Mom. But now, as I waited for our son, I found I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother.

Growing up, I’d found substitutes as best I could. My father kept his family together, trying hard to make up for Mom’s death. My five sisters and I made a tight-knit, loving unit, and we all mothered one another.

Then God gave me a second mother in my wonderful mother-in-law, Ethel. In the early years of my marriage Ethel never intruded but also never failed to give good advice when she felt it justified. Ethel died three years before I got pregnant, and although her death was more peaceful and less painful than my mother’s, I still missed her terribly. As my baby grew inside me, I felt keenly the fact that I had no mother to help me.

I’m ashamed to admit I felt jealous of other pregnant women who had mothers. I saw them together shopping for maternity clothes while I went, alone, to buy my own. They were there cooing over cribs and cradles when my husband and I shopped for the perfect bed for our baby. Even in our Lamaze class there was a mother-daughter team, huffing and puffing right alongside the counting husbands and the eagerly attending ladies.

I had this little fantasy that I’d let my mind play: my mother and I, enjoying lunch together at a restaurant while she told me wise stories about the wiles and ways of babies. I could picture myself, listening intently and laughing at tales of her own mothering. But of course, it was just a fantasy. It just wasn’t fair.

I knew I could never forget my mothers; their faces are etched in my memory. But I wanted my son to somehow “know” his grandmothers, so a few months before our baby arrived, Tom and I decided to hang a picture of each of our mothers on the wall. In my mother-in-law’s picture, taken when she was a lively, vibrant young woman, Ethel looks a lot like her son—complete with the slightest suggestion of faint lines under her eyes, a hereditary trick of the skin that my husband shares. It’s a distinctive feature, and I noticed it in Ethel the first time I met her.

My own mother’s picture looks down at me with the large, beautiful and smiling brown eyes I remember so vividly from my childhood. I’d found comfort in those eyes when I hurt myself. I’d loved the way she smiled and how her eyes lit up with laughter when she felt delighted. And despite the stress and strain of raising six children, with a husband in Vietnam, there had always been deep peace in her eyes.

For me, labor lasted thirty-three hours and ended in an emergency C-section. The doctor whispered the word “brain damage” into the phone while she summoned the high-risk pediatrician, and I knew from the way the nurse frowned at the monitor and from her honest answers to our questions that my baby was in trouble.

It was a far cry from the delivery I’d planned, the one where my husband and I would participate joyously in the miracle of birth. I was sure that I’d cry the first time I heard the baby cry out, and I knew my husband would, too. But I wasn’t awake to see my baby born. Right before the general anesthesia put me to sleep, my last conscious thoughts were prayers for his safety.

When I woke up from the delivery, my husband and my sister were with me. My first thought, even before I could open my eyes, was for the baby. I’ll never forget my sister’s voice saying, “He’s beautiful—and he’s huge!” In spite of the doctor’s fears, Ben was healthy, hearty and weighed nearly ten pounds. Finally they brought my son to me. I was groggy and in pain from the staples on my incision, but I couldn’t wait to meet him.

I took the heavy bundle they handed me—they didn’t tell me he’d be so heavy! Someone put a pillow on my belly so I could hold him more easily, and I did what I’m sure every new parent does—I held his hand and counted his fingers, amazed at the tiny, perfect little fingernails. He made a face when I did that, his eyes still closed in sleep. I watched him breathe, watched the way his barrel chest went in and out, in and out. I savored the bowed, pudgy little legs and the perfect roundness of his head. I held him while he slept, breathing in that unforgettable fragrance of new baby. An hour later, he stirred and woke. I watched as his eyes opened, held my breath as he looked at me for the first time.

Considering that his grandmothers were absent, I’m proud to say that up until then I’d done pretty well. I’d felt too full of joy and thanksgiving at Ben’s safe arrival to feel the “just isn’t fair” feeling. And, when my son opened his eyes, It just isn’t fair ended for good.

You see, my son has my mother’s eyes—big, deep brown, and full of sparkle and life. And there’s a funny little skin fold under his eyes—just like his father, just like Ethel.

When I see my two mothers smile at me from my son’s face, I no longer have any thoughts about “fairness.” I just know that I have been blessed with a beautiful son whose smile gives me back both of my mothers every day of his life.

Nancy L. Rusk

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