When I was in high school, I wanted to be a surgeon. This was pre-Grey’s Anatomy, so there was no sexy image of what could happen in the On-Call room. I just loved the idea of challenging myself to exercise my mind, push its boundaries. Also, the whole “I wanna be a mommy when I grow up” dream never really turned me on. Motherhood seemed like one of those things for women who maybe didn’t value the expanding of their minds and the use of their bodies in daily, fulfilling work. I know. I knew nothing but, to be fair, I had plenty of Exhibits for my argument. Growing up a pastor’s daughter, I had seen a lot of mothers give up a lot of dreams and say over what they did with their minds and how they lived to conform to the expectations of a denomination.
I poured myself into research about what it would take to become a surgeon; the education, the cost, the different options for specialties (something in the neuro/pediatric field). I had it all worked out in my mind, started checking “Pre-Med” on my applications for colleges, and couldn’t wait for Med school. My dad, always “King of connections”, convinced a good friend of his – an orthopedic surgeon – to let me shadow him for an afternoon in one of his surgeries. It was a torn meniscus, a C-shaped piece of cartilage that gives cushioning in the knee joint. Sometimes the tear repairs on its own (the wonders of the human body never cease) but sometimes it’s in a trickier place, so when blood flow can’t reach the area of the tear, it most likely will not repair without surgical intervention.
Fun fact: My husband recently tore his meniscus. He tore it in the tricky way, meaning he needs knee surgery this year. His surgery will be performed robotically through tiny incisions that will heal so well and so fast, you’d never know anything ever went wrong. My MD dreams were happening almost twenty years ago, so robotic surgery wasn’t the norm it is today. This was a procedure that required a scalpel.
I remember tightening the baggy, blue scrub pants around my skinny teenage waist, and scrubbing in, washing the sanitary sudsing solution all the way up to my elbows, feeling fantastic. I grinned like a fool behind my mask as the surgeon moved with confidence in that operating theater, asking for his cutting instruments with such cool authority. There was music playing in the background, and the whirring noise of oxygen machines. There was a small blade, blood, an electric drill. I began to talk myself down, my stomach doing that thing it does when I crest the first hill of a roller coaster. The drill had been spinning for ten seconds when a piece of bone flew through the air and into my long, high school cheerleader, blonde hair. I ran out of the operating room and vomited in the closest trashcan. I sat on the linoleum outside the O.R., head spinning, trying desperately not to pass out. That was the day my surgical dream died. Even if I got the education to become a surgeon, I didn’t have the intuition, and I certainly didn’t have the stomach for it.
When I found out I was pregnant, I began to research pregnancy, delivery, and newborn parenting like a surgeon-in-training. I filled my shelves with books and notebooks with notes from those books, and used every college study tactic I could to soak these ideas up into the sponge of my mind. Then something fantastic happened: the kids came along, and almost none of that stuff worked. I vomited a lot those days. Morning sickness, painful deliveries, bloody nipples, fevers from mastitis, postpartum depression, bodily exhaustion that could have won Olympic Gold – if there was such a category – and a general feeling of giving 100% (then discovering I had to give 200% more before bedtime), filled each day. Then, after raising two boys less than two years apart in age, my husband and I decided to adopt our youngest son, who just so happens to be a different race than we are and to have a long list of medical complications and special needs.
Motherhood changed me, and not just in the cliche’ “having a baby changes everything” sense, but in a surgical, mind-expanding one. Yeah, yeah, it changed my sleep schedule, the cleanliness of my floors, and the soft roll of skin that folds happily over the top of my tight jeans. Sure, it also changed the grocery list, the list of errands I have to run, the amount of money spent on tennis shoes and gasoline each year. And yes, on a more scientific level, it changed the chemical composition in my own body, my brain chemistry, my hormone balance, my force. It also transformed anything, whether it’s a transcontinental flight for an overseas family vacation or meal at a restaurant, is an all-consuming event, a managing of noise and organizing of chaoses. But that’s not even close to the point.
It’s taken me fourteen years as a mother, fifteen and some change if you count the pregnancy before I held my first son on my naked chest in the delivery room, to realize motherhood has made me a fantastic, passionate, educated feminist. Perhaps feminist is too tame a word, because it implies equality between the sexes. Motherhood made me a better human. It made me a woman who is both educated and intuitive.
I’ve put my body and mind to incredible use the past fifteen years as I’ve done the work of living into mothering my children. I haven’t just kept them alive through my physical presence and nourishment, but I’ve expanded my own mind and sense of self as I’ve created the kind of devotion I would have learned as a surgeon. Through workshops and training courses, books, and, most importantly, daily life experience, I’ve gotten a liberal education on more aspects of humanity and existence than I can count. There are things I now know because my children came into my world and my mind had to expand with them.
There are now dozens of topics I could write dissertations on, based on things I’ve read, learned, and personally experienced; anatomy & physiology, psychology, pregnancy, doula laboring practices, natural birth, hormones, bodily balance and healing, breastfeeding, bonding, chemistry, toddler / parent attachment, developmental stages, the brain’s periods of disequalibrium, organic food, homemade food, absorption of toxins, premature birth, Retinopathy of Prematurity, deafness, traumatic brain injury, hydrocephalus, ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement and revision, Cerebral Palsy, AFO’s and botox for CP, Epilepsy, brain development, healing oils that cross the blood/brain barrier, racial history and black / white tensions in America, verbal development and dexterity in developmentally delayed children, special needs education requirements and procedures, inviting children to spiritual practice, and work/life boundaries, to name the icebergs tip.
My kids never dress in matching outfits. My house is never all-the-way clean. My house isn’t run in a way that follows typical male / female roles that my parents stuck to. Sometimes I work while he does the laundry. I don’t work a typical job, instead I create – making photographs with my partner and writing for a living. We don’t make it to church every Sunday and, when we do I walk away with more questions than I do answers. I don’t even have the right parenting answers as a mother, not even close, but each time a question comes up from any of my three boys, I’m invited to the next level class towards my doctorate. I just so happen to have the intuition, the education and the stomach for being their mom.