The Good Mom

Washington Square, Philadelphia 1976

When I became a mother, I was terrified. As the youngest in my family, and without cousins or friends nearby requiring babysitting, my experience with infants was practically nil. This in high contrast to my husband’s family, sprung from the fertile substrate of the Abruzzese hills, rich in their family life if not in their pockets. And as an editor of medical and nursing textbooks and references, the whole body of American medicine wagged its gnarly finger before my boggled eyes as if to say, “Now you’ve done it. Everyone and his  dog will know how thoroughly stupid you are.” 

When my daughter kicked her way out of me, the first wail heard in the delivery room was “But I don’t know how to take care of a baby!” I cried for three straight hours afterward, while the lady in the next bed laughed on the phone with relatives and cooed to her toddler at home. My husband was so embarrassed he left to call his family and get some sleep.

It didn’t take long for the stupid to materialize after I took her home four days later. The nurses had given me clear instructions and impressed on me the need for cleanliness. I was to wipe her eyes with sterile gauze pads dipped in sterile water (boiled for five minutes) at least twice a day—I guess to minimize inflammation from the silver nitrate drops they instilled after delivery. I rehearsed what I knew about sterile procedure from the manuscripts I had edited, then stopped: Once I open the paper on the gauze pad, it won’t be sterile! It says so right on the package. You can read it on a Band-Aid. “Sterile until the seal is torn.” So I sat down and cried for three hours until my husband left the room to get some sleep or maybe call his family.

I had another child, 15 months later, and both survived and thrived. They did not suffer from kwashiorkor, hookworm, meningitis (because they had blood tests with every cold), elephantiasis, or leprosy. As far as I could tell, confirmed by two psychiatrists, they seemed mentally sound. Nor were they subject to injury from the mob wars that wracked South Philadelphia where they grew up, or get involved with teenage gangs, because they never walked the streets unaccompanied nor attended the local district schools.

I have to stop writing. My newly adopted rescue dog is vomiting, shaking, and twitching, and I need to get her to a vet quickly to be certain she isn’t seizing. My husband, meantime, is leaving the room, although I think it’s too late to call his East Coast family.