A mother’s lesson in integrity

By the time I was 25 I had graduated university, gotten married and began my career in Accounting. In those first two years after university, I and my then husband had moved to New York where I worked in New York City in a public accounting firm.  I was much more at home in city life than my husband and soon my life began to feel divided, divided by the life that I had during the day in the city going to clients and learning the complexities of several different businesses. On the weekends, it was the suburbs, trying to make friends in a new state, new surroundings and getting used to married life.  All the while with a husband who was wishing that this would hurry up and get out of my head so we could head back to the Midwest.

 It was also around this time that my grandmother started to remind me of the great bargain that was placed on me as a woman.  That story that says we can’t extend ourselves too much into the world because after marriage we need to start to have children. The monthly calls from her began to get more frequent and the hint dropping changing to out and out pleading with the regular use of the term “old maid”.  To her, it didn’t matter that I had gotten married, that wasn’t enough, children was what would make me a whole human in her eyes. 

I found myself at a crossroads, choose the life I had wanted in the city, putting more work into my career or give in to the story that I had always been told was the path of every woman. I got pregnant, we moved, I began a career in the Midwest thankfully finding someone who would hire me knowing that I would be on maternity leave in mere months, but I assured him that I would return, not working was not in the cards. I wanted a career, I wanted to test myself, to grow and to do well in my life.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want children, I just figured that they would come later, when I was more established in a career.  I was of that generation of woman who thought we could and should have it all, doing it all on our own. 

Throughout this time in my life, I would talk every few weeks with my mother, having several states in between us and only a phone line connection was good for our relationship, we could talk and just leave it at that, there were no commitments. I didn’t invite her to come visit, I didn’t offer to go there, we were in each other’s lives on the surface and that was enough for me, it was safe, there was no getting hurt with this distance between us. 

After we moved, she was still an 8 hour drive away which was still okay but with a child on the way the promises started.  Call me when you go into labor, she would say, I will come she would say.  I want to be there, she would declare.  Thankfully, I was not one of those women who really needed her mother at this event, but I did allow myself to hear this information and begin to believe it. I would think about showing her grand baby to her for the first time and having those moments even if brief where it would just be my mother, me and my child. 

Around 6AM on a Saturday morning in early February, I rolled my big belly over in bed trying to get into a more comfortable position and I felt it, my water had broken. At 3 weeks early I knew this was not ideal, I did not want to go to the hospital early. I knew that the earlier you went to the hospital the more likely you were to end up with invasive procedures or a cesarean, none of which I wanted. I knew that childbirth was a natural process, I trusted my body to do the work but now I also understood that once your water breaks you become susceptible to infection and need to take that into consideration.  I called my doctor and was informed that he was away for the weekend, but someone was covering, and they would be at the hospital when I arrived. Not the news that I was hoping for but at this point there wasn’t much I could do. Then next call was to my mother, she had wanted to come, said she would so I called in order to give her as much time as possible to make the 8-hour drive.  She sounded really excited, she said she had a bag ready; she would be on the road within the hour, she said that she couldn’t wait to see me and meet her new grand baby. 

I hung up, somehow knowing that none of that was really true but at that moment I couldn’t dwell very long on that thought I had a baby that had decided to come 3 weeks early.  At the hospital, I was checked in and taken to a birthing room. The covering doctor came in, I wasn’t a fan of his bedside manner but at this point none of that was going to matter.  He said he needed to check me and then we would settle in for a possible long labor process. But when he checked me, at first, he said that I was nicely dilating but then he said “wait, that isn’t a head, that is a foot.” I could feel him rummaging around in my vagina like he was looking for a lost watch. Then the doctor said, “wait, there are two feet, we need to do a cesarean.”  Then he looked at the nurse and told her to set the time, I would later learn that the hospital was doing a study of the time it takes from the moment a cesarean decision was made to the time the baby was out. The next few minutes were an absolute blur as my husband was taken from the room to get changed to be in surgery with me. I had one nurse holding my right arm over a series of forms that I would just sign without reading while another nurse had my left arm inserting an IV. Everyone in the room was on the run which made me absolutely panic, I remember asking if something was wrong with the baby and just being told “everything will be fine.” It came off as the most placating response, so I didn’t believe it, all I could do was take in the actions of everyone which told me that everything was wrong. But I now I know we had a time clock that we were racing to beat, the baby was fine she was just trying to walk her way into the world feet first. 

Thankfully they were an efficient group and within minutes I was in surgery and was being shown the sweet gooey head of my daughter who was none too happy about her own birthing process being disrupted. I got to greet her for just a moment and then she was whisked away by a nurse, with her Dad in tow to have her assessed, cleaned up and swaddled.  I was sedated so I could be asleep during the closure and I awoke in a recovery room some time later.  Shortly after that my husband and our daughter came into the room and I was able to put her naked on my chest and nurse her for the first time.  There is nothing like that moment when you know that this little being you love more than life itself and there isn’t anything that would come before this person not even yourself. 

As I was nursing my daughter, I was brought back to the memory of my mother, I just looked at my husband and said, she isn’t coming, he agreed that it was doubtful. I was so disappointed in that moment, why couldn’t she have just been truthful? 

In that moment and in many other moments throughout my early years my mother showed me what it looked like to say you were going to do something and not do it, how out of integrity that was. For some reason she just could not bring herself to tell me that she couldn’t come, if she had I would have been fine with it, disappointed a little but fine certainly. For some reason she couldn’t tell the other people around her that she needed to break her commitments to them because she needed to go be with her daughter.  I am sure on some level she wanted to be there for everyone on that day, not disappoint anyone. I am also sure that she chose the path of least resistance that day, it would be easier to disappoint someone you didn’t have to stand face to face with than to disappoint someone she had to look in the eye. 

Ever since this day and the many before it, integrity has been very important to me.  I have always tried to be in integrity with my word, now that doesn’t mean that I haven’t agreed to things and later regretted them after having a different experience of things but in that moment with the information that I had, I have always tried to be true to my word and for that, I am grateful to the examples that I was shown by my mother in how I didn’t want to show up for others in my life.