Published on March 12th, 2014 | by Misti Rainwater-Lites6
MISTI RAINWATER-LITES on When The Mother Leaves
I first became a mother on December 8, 1996 when I gave birth to a daughter I knew I could not keep. From the beginning of my pregnancy I knew that I would place my baby for adoption. My boyfriend had left me for another woman and I was unemployed and living with my mother and stepfather. I’d only attended college for a few semesters and was not adept at holding down entry level jobs. Maybe if I had been stronger and had had more confidence in myself I could have figured out a way to raise my daughter on my own but it’s pointless to torture myself with what ifs and if onlys. I signed up for Medicaid and food stamps. I puked everything up, even chewing gum, for nine months. I puked during labor. After giving birth to my daughter and spending time with her in the hospital I decided that I could not hand her over to the parents I chose for her in my fifth month of pregnancy. Then I heard my stepfather yelling at my mother in the hallway outside my hospital room. He told her that if I kept the baby he would leave my mother. He entered the room and told me that I needed to examine how I had been living my life before I got pregnant. He reminded me of the hot checks I had written while involved with my con artist boyfriend. He reminded me of the topless dancing I had done all over Texas. I stared at the wall with tears in my eyes and said, “I’ve said from the beginning that I don’t want any negativity to affect my baby. I know what I have to do.” I handed my newborn daughter to her adoptive father at the hospital entrance, my eyes almost swollen shut from crying.
For the next several years I flailed. I returned to college only to drop out again after three semesters. I worked at a small town newspaper, which had always been my dream, but I disgusted my boss with my op-ed pieces. “If you want to write a novel, write a novel. This is a newspaper,” he finally said. I got my first computer in 2000 and quickly found a boyfriend who lived in New York. When we met I knew it wouldn’t work but we got married, anyway, and moved from Austin to Port Arthur to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was miserable and didn’t know why. I tried therapy, tried various meds for depression and anxiety. I got fired from a preschool after a month for telling the three-year-olds about Elvis dying on the potty (I hung my Elvis calendar in the classroom and when one of the kids asked who the man on the calendar was I replied, “He was Elvis Presley, a rock-n-roll performer and American icon who died while sitting on the potty.”). Then while working a temp assignment in a call center I met the man I decided to leave my husband for. Infatuation has always been the easy fix for me. If life isn’t going well, if life doesn’t feel good, fall in love. Instant cure. I bonded with my new boyfriend when we discovered that we had both lost children, although in different ways. I had given away my newborn daughter and he had walked away from his three-year-old son to pursue a music career in San Francisco. Right away I decided that I needed to marry my boyfriend and have a baby with him. That was the only thing that would heal our hearts completely. So we got married in 2005 and got pregnant in February of 2007.
The year before I got pregnant my husband told me that I could quit my security guard job. He would support me. He knew how miserable I was working entry level jobs. He knew how much I loved to write. We both believed that eventually I would find a way to make real money as a writer. I wrote poetry and edited an online poetry magazine throughout my pregnancy. In my last trimester my husband took on a second job. My mother flew in from Texas to help me transition into motherhood. Then I gave birth to my son on November 9, 2007 and my life, which has always been challenging, became pure hell. I never received a diagnosis but I’m pretty sure I experienced full-blown postpartum psychosis. I wanted my mother with me in the hospital the entire time. When she left to spend the night in my apartment I found myself resenting my husband, feeling like I couldn’t trust him to help me with the baby. On the car ride home the night I left the hospital I verbally abused my husband and mother because I was so terrified of traffic and of the carseat being improperly installed. I had one goal: to get my newborn son home alive. I’d never had much faith in humanity to begin with but I lost all faith in humanity during that car ride. Nothing happened but everything happened. I freaked out. I felt like the world was conspiring against me and my son. I began motherhood in that dark, fucked up realm of paranoia, mistrust and fear. Things got progressively worse. I tried breastfeeding for a week, anxious and terrified and depressed and sleep deprived. I felt like the worst mother in the world when I made the decision to feed my son formula. The first formula didn’t work. It constipated my son. It took me four or five attempts to finally find the right formula. During this time, my mother had to return to her full-time job in Texas. My husband was working two jobs. I was alone in the apartment for hours with my son, feeling like he would die in my care. I finally convinced my husband to move us into a shack across the street from my mother’s house in Port Arthur. Everything in me was screaming, “You cannot mother your son. You need your mother to help you keep your son alive.”
My son is six-years-old now, bright and healthy but not as emotionally secure as he could be. I divorced his father in 2012 after years of my crazy behavior (multiple affairs, drinking, spending all my time writing and social networking and neglecting our son). We share joint custody of our son but I am the noncustodial parent, the babysitter. I watch my son each Saturday while my ex-husband works. The other night I drove my son to his favorite restaurant for dinner. He started asking the usual questions and making the usual requests. “Mommy, why can’t you love Daddy again? Why can’t you live with me and Daddy? Why can’t you get a house and take care of me all the time?” When I parked the car my son started crying. I climbed in beside him in the backseat and held him in my arms and tried to soothe him with my truth. My truth, which is that I am a mentally ill SSI recipient attempting college again at the age of forty, completely disenfranchised with a wrecked car and no other property, doesn’t soothe me so I don’t know how I can expect it to soothe a six-year-old. But I don’t bullshit my son. I never have. I tell him the truth tempered with love and hope that will suffice.
Last summer it was important to me to spend a couple of nights in my father’s home, asking him questions that I had never asked before and looking through old photo albums. That first night my father took me out for Mexican food. I had a couple of margaritas but still lacked the courage to ask him the really important questions, the questions I knew he would not have the courage to answer, anyway. I asked a few basic questions. How old were his parents when they got married? Where were they born? How many siblings did my paternal grandfather have? My parents divorced when I was six-years-old. My father left my mother and me and my two younger siblings for a woman he met in Louisiana. Although he was an abusive father, his leaving did something to me that I don’t think any amount of therapy will ever completely fix. I’ve tried to transcend but when I look back at the smoking wreckage of my life, when I examine the root of things, all that I’m left with is this: I had a parent who abused me then abandoned me, who rarely paid child support and never proved to me beyond a shadow of a fucking doubt that he was glad that I was born. That night over Mexican food and margaritas my father brought up an uncle of mine whose mother left him when he was a child. “Papaw was a good father, he took good care of him, but it’s just not the same. A child needs his mother,” my father said. It was obvious that my father was taking a stab at me but I didn’t shoot back with, “But it’s okay that you left when my brother was ten months old. It’s okay for the father to leave.”
It isn’t okay for a parent to leave, period, but I’ve learned that it is especially not okay for a mother to leave. What few people realize is that even though I don’t provide my son with a home, even though I don’t tuck him in each night and feed him his breakfast each morning, I never left. I am present, I am here, I am my son’s mother and will be until the day I die. I was a mother the month I lived in San Francisco last year, scrambling to find a sugar daddy to supplement my SSI check. I was a mother the months I lived in a Texas border town with a man I’d known for a couple of months. My heart has never been larger and more broken. What I am dealing with, what I am trying to learn how to accomplish, is making my son understand that I never left and will never leave, that I love him fiercely and unconditionally and will continue to look for ways to prove beyond a shadow of a fucking doubt that I’m glad he was born.