on this particular day in July

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This morning, I woke my son for his 5th birthday. My son. The first year that I can legitimately call him that. All the while remembering that he’s her son too. She’s the one who got to carry him while he grew inside her. She’s the one who felt him kick for the first time, who saw his tiny beating heart on the ultrasound screen. She’s the one who struggled through labor, a VBAC according to the hospital records, to give birth to her son. My son. She heard his first cry. Counted his fingers and toes. Swaddled him in the soft blanket and put the striped newborn hat on his little head.

She’s the one who held him, comforted him, gave him his bottle, took him to the emergency room over and over when he was sick as a baby. She’s the one who got to see his first smile, hear his first coos and giggles. She helped him learn to sit up, to crawl, to walk. She’s the one who struggled day after day to make a life for them, to choose what’s best, to keep him safe and healthy.

I don’t know where he lived. I don’t know how he liked to be held as an infant. I don’t know when he first sat up, crawled, walked, talked. I don’t know when he got his first tooth. I didn’t get to potty-train him even. I couldn’t keep him safe after she failed. I couldn’t prevent the six moves from family to family to family that occurred during that year that he was two years old. I wasn’t there to tell him he was safe, to teach him that there is always enough food, to love him. I couldn’t protect him.

But.

I’m the one who got to wake him up on his 5th birthday. And his third and fourth birthdays too. More than two years in one house, with one family who still struggles daily to prove our love, to win his trust. How many birthdays before he believes we will never, never leave? How many birthdays before he knows in his heart of hearts that he is safe forever? Maybe that’ll never come. Maybe it’ll always be head knowledge for him. Maybe he’ll always struggle to trust. It doesn’t matter at this point. I will love him forever. I will prove myself to him as many times as it takes. I’m the one who gets to do that.

So while she sits without him on this hot July evening, I got to hug him and kiss him and tuck him under his new Cincinnati Reds blanket for bedtime while he clutched his stuffed Mr. Redlegs and dangled his other hand down to touch his new treasure box filled with ‘precious’ trinkets. I’m the one who got to watch his grin while a whole room full of family and friends sang him Happy Birthday. I’m the one who got to tell him I love him face to face, lips pressed to forehead.

I’m blessed. I’m grateful. But I also grieve, and I don’t grieve alone. I grieve what I’ve missed, the milestones I never saw, the intimate knowledge of his infancy that I will never have. She grieves much the same. She grieves what she’s missed, the milestones she’ll never see, the intimate knowledge of who he is right now that she will never have.

So tonight we exchange messages, she and I. Wishes for the future. Prayers for one another. A strange intimacy that I never anticipated. For we share the same love for the very same boy. We are both and equally his mothers. Me in a way that she has completely missed out on, and she in a way that I will never get to be. Both of us celebrating our son’s birth. Both of us grieving the losses of this curious brand of motherhood we share.

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