On International Women’s Day I happen to be thinking of my own journey in motherhood. My daughter turned twelve this weekend. Each year as we celebrate her birthday, I also remember other mothers who are marking another year of parenthood. Motherhood certainly isn’t the only way for women to make a difference in the world. It’s been the most profound one for me.
Here’s a favorite photo of my daughter, H., on Ruby Beach in Washington State, taken last summer. We arrived there on a rainy, chilly, day, but had much fun chasing the surf in bare feet. I love this picture because H. is the only real color on the beach, and her feet are skipping over the surface. (The beach is named Ruby because it’s said the sand has a reddish cast to it. Do you see it? I don’t.)
(photo by D.L. Smith, Jr.)
This next photo shows what we saw the night H. was born as we drove to the birthing center in Fairbanks, Alaska, where we were living at the time. Remember Comet Hale-Bopp? It was out in full force that night, along with the northern lights.
I didn’t make it all the way through labor without medication, but ended up giving birth at the hospital at the Army base in Fairbanks. I’d been hoping to avoid going there. The room was stark. The staff were all wearing fatigues. But they were wonderfully professional and kind, and helped me through a tough labor without a C-section. There were three giant pine trees out the window that I could see and that seemed like friendly spirits there for support.
Very soon, I came to understand what my grandmother meant when she told me that soon I’d wonder how I could ever live without H. Here’s a poem that captures that feeling, about three months into motherhood.
On this night within night of the blue arctic winter, my house shakes down to sleep. Night light and slippers I sink and sigh, too O couch, be my lover.
Upstairs, hidden is a glowing spark sleeping. She shines, possibility leaking under the door.
I love her
I miss her
the union we had when my body contained her.
She plunders me, wrenches me open. I am the soft bruisy flesh of a fruit near its center.
Please, someone, somewhere, make up a new language for the smooth nap of hair on my lips, for the press of her kitten-paw fingers, her tiny clean earthworm of mouth on my nose.
Write down her notes
which my ears were made perfect to hear.
Thank you, women everywhere, who nurture people, art, ideas, and causes for all of us.