Thursday, May 26, 2011

In Praise of Single Parents.

When I found out I was pregnant for the first time -- the second pregnancy test confirming it while Dave was working a night shift -- I got in the car and tracked him down, getting off work. I beeped the horn at a red light, got out of the car, and shouted to him -- It was right! It's true! He ran across the intersection and picked me up off my feet while the light changed and people blew their horns, pissed off at us.

But that night after he fell asleep, I felt alone -- more alone than I'd ever felt in my life. It's a strange unsettling feeling that's shown up early on with each of my pregnancies, usually that first night or so. I'm suddenly terrified. I didn't really understand that there was an actual baby growing inside of me that first time -- I mean, I got it, I read the books, I knew where babies came from -- but didn't really get it until she was out and I picked up her heel and said, "I'd recognize you anywhere." It was the heel I'd see shooting across the top of my belly for a couple of months.

But with the pregnancies that came after, I realized that I was actually not alone -- in a very real way. I was inhabited. Still, I knew that the babies could only do so much. Most of this process -- our survival -- was up to me.

And that first night, with Dave asleep beside me -- my God, we were once incredibly young! -- I thought of all of the women who have gone through this pregnancy and birth without that other person who, even in sleep, is there and their there-ness is what helps. In fact, pregnancy and labor must make Dave feel more helpless and useless than any other major even in his life.

And since that first night, I still think of single parents when doing something very ordinary, something routine, and I'm awed.

Last night, Dave was away. Otis had a bloody nose in the evening and then at around 1:20 am, he woke again. Blood everywhere. His blue eyes wide with terror, crying in huffs that then sprayed blood into the air. I bolted upright, swooped him up, grabbed a towel, applied pressure, helped him pee, carried him to the kitchen looking for smaller towels, not finding any. The house was hot. I was soaked in sweat. I kept the pressure up -- blood on my shirt and his, dotting the tile. I told him inane stories from my scattered brain -- about a well-dressed fox who falls in love with a chicken. I felt lightheaded -- having bolted through the house from a dead sleep -- I felt suddenly nauseous. And it hit me: I'm going to throw up and pass out.

I called for my oldest daughter, but a sound sleeper on the second floor, I knew she couldn't hear me. I thought of airplanes -- secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting minors. If I pass out, he'll keep bleeding. I put him down for a moment, told him to follow me. I laid down in bed, called the neighbors and Dave, though far away. No one answers cell phones in the night. I called my parents. I pinched Otis' nose again. I talked to my parents as he watched TV. "I remember your father staying up with your sister for hours in the middle of the night," my mother said and she told me about the time she couldn't get it to stop and went to the ER.

I kept applying pressure. It would stop. It would start again. I couldn't do much -- applying pressure with one hand, getting him water with the other. I only have two hands, but the truth is that normally I have four. My parenting comes with a bilocation option.

Finally, the bleeding stopped. I propped him with pillows and watched him sleep. And I thought of single parents, like I had that first night when I found out I was pregnant. That was nothing. This, all of it, done alone, day in and day out -- and the single parent still wakes up early and goes to work. There is no playing catch up. It goes on and on. Raising children is unrelenting. And the people of this world who do it alone -- with only two hands -- are amazing. Their dedication is resolute. Their fortitude incredible.

So, today, wiping blood off of my cell phone and the walls and stripping the bedsheets, soaking the towels, I think of all of you. (It was only a nosebleed, after all.) I'm thankful you exist and press on. You are inspiring. And I just wanted to tell you that.