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Flesh and blood.

2008-11-18 - 10:43 p.m.

There is something about having children that makes one far more aware of the possibility of mortality, even while having them is a bit of a hedge against that mortality. And itís not just the sudden and disturbing awareness that the big bad world is a scary place for your wee defenceless angels. Itís not even the realization that something could happen to you Ė the formerly invincible teenager that you were, able to do the stupidest things imaginable and emerge unscathed Ė and oh, just how much youíd miss if such a thing occurred. Iím talking about the whole process of gestating an actual tiny person and then bringing that person into the world and guarding them against mishap.

I suspect that this is the same for everyone, though perhaps it does not occur universally at the same stage. For some, perhaps they are hit with a blinding flash of Holy shit! Every little thing I do to myself now has an effect on this tadpole growing in me! from the moment they know theyíre pregnant. For others Iím betting that the impulse to shield their child from harm hits the first time they feel a kick, or lay eyes in them, or the first time they themselves are the recipient of a trusting gaze of recognition from a mini set of eyes. At some point though, I bet all parents join the ranks of People Who Are Terrified Of All The Unnamed Things That Could Happen. Like me, they may envision their child running away from them in a parking lot, or choking on a grape that hasnít been solicitously cut into eighths, and shudder. Yes, we parents are desperately aware of the mortality of our kids.

But I also found that the sheer physicality of the process of becoming a parent really drove home an awareness of my own body and itís capabilities and limitations. When I was pregnant I was at the mercy of the tiny person growing in me and all the havoc they wrought with my digestive system, all my major organs that had to shuffle around to make room (letís not forget to give a special mention to my bladder and my lungs here), and, most of all, my hormones and the ripple effects they produced on everything from the shape and bulk of my boobs to how my hair grew. Still, it was worth it because my body was a wondrous machine engaged in the miracle of producing Life.

And then came the time for this Life to get out of my body. Not that the 12 hours of nasty labour and c-section for my first one or the c-section for my second werenít worth it because, duh, of course they were. But man, did they both suck. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING in my LIFE has ever made me more aware of the fact that I am mortal flesh and blood and bone. The initial reliance on others for even the smallest, most personal tasks. The lack of privacy in having to disclose the state of your body and its functions to strangers. The constant, messy, oozing of stuff that goes on Ė for c-sections, thereís the bonus of leaking from yet another place that nothing normally comes out of. And, above all, the ridiculous pain that makes even taking a shower, or a trip to the bathroom, or a slow shuffle down the hall a torturous challenge.

I have, thankfully, never been seriously ill. Sure, Iíve had my share of flus, colds, and stomach bugs, and Iíve suffered from migraines for years, but Iíve never had to check in to the hospital for anything. I really believed all the anti-medical-establishment diatribe which asserted that birth has become overly-medical-ized and is a natural process which shouldnít automatically be done in a hospital. And Iím not saying that thatís not true for the majority of normal, uncomplicated births. But let me tell you, the few days after my first c-section were the first time in my life I really felt like a patient; one that needed drugs just to control the pain enough to be able to leave my bed to pee. I can clearly remember this past June, just after my second c-section, when a sip of water went down the wrong way and I had a coughing fit and I felt like I was about to split apart at the belly.

Iíll never know what itís like to give birth vaginally, but I suspect that the effect on my psyche of the process and the resulting pain would have been similar: an unanticipated awareness of how, despite of our advances in our technology and ďcivilizationĒ, we really are animals, much like all the others on this planet. We are at the mercy of our own bodies and natural processes, and we may have learned to mitigate some aspects of them Ė weíve developed drugs and methods of pain control, for instance Ė but we still have to go through them. (When I was discussing vaginal birth vs. planned c-section with my doctor, I asked (only half-jokingly) about whether there was an option ďcĒ instead.)

Maybe itís not a bad thing to be made aware of the fragility of our flesh, and that we arenít so far above the other animals we share the world with. And yes, of course it was worth it to have my kids (if it wasnít, Iíd only have the first one of them, right?), but, personally, I kind of wish I didnít have that at the back of my mind, that I never found myself kneeling in the dark by my daughterís bed, listening to her breathe and think about the fact that one day I wonít be around to do that any more, and that another day, she wonít either.

I wish I still had that fabled teenage sense of invulnerability. Especially when it comes to my kids. I just want to believe that weíll all live happily ever after. Forever.

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