In Our Veins

I was taking off my clothes in our backyard, and I didn’t care if the neighbors saw me in my hideous orange-striped underwear and old gray tank top. I had already stripped my son down to his diaper. Vomit covered me. It was in my hair, covering my chest, and dripping down my legs. Pieces of putrid banana clung to my blouse and shorts, now lying in a heap at our feet. My son was crying, big round tears on his red puffy cheeks.

How could all the neighbors not be watching the remnants of this disaster unfold? His mouth was opened wide showing off his 8 perfect teeth, while sobs and big heaving breaths escaped. He was traumatized by what had happened moments earlier in our living room, his face, belly and legs also covered. He had been whiney and clingy all day, and after waking from a restless nap, he clung to me, begging for me to comfort him. He pushed away a sippy cup of milk, hiccupped once, then vomited, not once, but twice. Despite the sticky warm vomit soaking both of us, I held him close, smoothed his hair, and kissed his tear-soaked cheeks.

Not so long ago I agonized over whether I could do these things, not just be a mom, but to be a good mom, at all hours of the day and night and no matter what the situation required from me. We all know we can do the easy stuff: books at bedtime, splashing at bath time, food on the floor at mealtime. I just wasn’t sure I could do the other stuff, those situations the veteran moms would share with a sly smile. Just wait, you’ll see. When I was pregnant, I worried that it would be too overwhelming. I worried about the utter grossness of it all. I heard the horror stories of the nonstop onslaught of germs and disease daycare would bring upon us. I dreaded horrendous diaper blow outs, projectile vomit, sleepless nights, and endless crying.

Then he was born. With the morning sunrise enveloping the delivery room, I held my son for the first time, and I knew we would be okay. Maybe it is the fact that childbirth itself is an initiation into the world of unthinkable bodily fluids or maybe it is just an internal maternal switch that gets hit, but in that moment, l didn’t even question my role. I would do whatever I needed to do for him. It wasn’t a consideration, it was just an understanding within myself and an unspoken promise to him. Through diarrhea and boogers, through blow outs and spit-up, through sleepless nights and banana-flavored vomit, I would be right there with him, for him.

After stripping down on the deck, we went back inside where we took a lukewarm shower, holding him close while rinsing away the vomit, wishing I could wash away the sickness too. Afterwards, we wrapped ourselves in a big, warm towel, and we sat in his rocker until he fell into a restless, feverish asleep. He vomited again through the evening and into the night. Each time, I was right there to hold him and comfort him, knowing that in the coming days, as he would be feeling better, I would be getting sick. How can I care about two days from now? I only know right now, this moment, cradling him in the dark, hoping that this will be the last of it and that he can begin to feel better. During the few hours he slept, I didn’t. Instead, I worried, not because vomit is gross and stinky, but because my child is sick, and I don’t want him to be.

For months before I met him, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I would be the person who held my vomiting child at arm’s length for no other reason than I was grossed out. That is, if I would even hold him at all. My old self would look at me now with an odd combination of incredulity, repulsion, and admiration. I didn’t know then I could be this mom. Now I don’t know anything else. Becoming a mom comes with a new perspective that is selfless and all encompassing. It’s nothing planned, it just happens suddenly and without intention. It’s intuitively understood that our children mean everything to us, and that we would do anything for them. We clean legs, bottoms, backs, and beyond when our diapers fail us, we wipe noses and suck snot out of tiny nostrils, and we catch vomit in our bare hands without a second thought. I do this, we do this, because we are moms. Badass is in our blood.

Written by Shawna Gove and originally published on Mamalode, 2015,

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