Updated: Jan 4
You’re getting fat. What are you pregnant?
I smiled, having known that this moment was coming. She sat across from me, her own belly rounded. I think we were talking about finding housing or maybe we were talking about the need for her to be kind to the other women in the shelter. Her words were frequently loud and hard, sharpened by years of poverty, neglect, bruises. We were about the same age. All of her kids were in foster care or adopted. It was easy to find reasons to not like her. She shouted at the other women in shelter, made them feel scared. She hid bologna in her dresser that made the shared room smell. Her survival skills were well honed, and they did not endear her to others.
But I liked her anyway. We did the math: our babies would be born weeks apart. She was delighted by this. She like that she knew more than me, like how to give birth. She knew those hard first weeks. She understood the changes happening in my life in ways that I could not.
But whereas the news of my first child was met with excitement and smiles by family and friends, the news of her baby brought consternation and fear. There was doubt whether she would even be allowed to bring her baby home from the hospital. While the pregnancy had made her feel hopeful - another chance at getting things right - it also made her angry. What right did 'those people' have to take her baby? What would happen?
I wanted so many things for her. I wanted to undo all the injustice and abuse from her childhood. I wanted to find her supportive housing where she would learn the skills of how to be a mother. I wanted her deep, unsatisfied needs to be met so she could meet the needs of this baby.
I went on maternity leave a month before my baby was born. Before her baby was due to be born too. In the whirlwind of last minute preparations, I don’t even remember the last time I saw her. But I heard a version of what happened. She brought the baby home! But one day, the baby still only a few weeks old, the baby wouldn’t stop crying while they were grocery shopping. She shouted down at the wailing infant. She was reported. The baby was taken away.
I also had a baby that wouldn’t stop crying many days and some nights. Actually, a lot of nights. And every time we were in the car my baby would cry the entire drive—whether it was 15 minutes or 4 hours. Sometimes I wanted to shout. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I lay her wailing body in the crib and would go out on the porch and feel sick and cry. I didn’t know how to do this. I had a stable life but still couldn’t pull it together. My husband left for work early and came home late most days. I was alone, more than I had expected. And the baby kept crying. Often wouldn’t nap. Every one told me I was a good mom and not to be so
hard on myself. And I thought of my shelter friend, and how everyone seemed to be rooting for my family to succeed, whereas everyone had been waiting, expecting for her to fail.
I thought I knew better than her, but really, what did I know?