Category Archives: Motherhood

Connection, preemies, and African violets

I’ve been thinking about African violets today. When I was little and just starting to learn about plants, my grandmother told me that African violets thrive best when the leaves of different plants touch one another. I am like an African violet. Touch and connection are critical if I am to thrive.

I’m thinking about connection because of an experience I had this morning. Andrew has a cool brain wave machine to help you relax, sleep, concentrate, or whatever you need to do. It has alpha, gamma, delta, and beta waves depending upon what program you choose. I haven’t been sleeping very well (jet lag) so I was going for relaxation, alpha waves. I’ve only tried the machine three times and each time I’ve had some really interesting insights. I write about today’s insights below.

There are a lot of amazing and wonderful things going on in my life, but I’ve also been feeling a level of angst and distress that I couldn’t explain.

I realized during the session this morning that my distress is about connection. I view connection as the most basic and fundamental of human needs.

I was born two months prematurely and spent the first month of my life in an incubator. I was born in my grandmother‘s home and the doctor, who arrived shortly after my birth, immediately took me away from my mother and rushed me to the hospital. He put my mother to bed for two weeks to recover, because apparently that’s what you did at that time. My aunt, who became my godmother, came to visit my mother shortly after my birth. She came to the hospital to see me as well, once. Because I was in an incubator for the first month of my life, I was not held. I was touched minimally. The belief was that I needed all of my energy and attention to be focused on growth. During that month, I largely grew alone.

My father and his parents met the doctor at the hospital almost immediately upon my arrival there. They could only see me in the incubator across the room.

This reality of separation has led me on a lifelong journey seeking connection. I have not been very successful at achieving that. I am estranged from my biological family for reasons I will not get into here. I do not communicate with my mother or any of my siblings. I thought I had found enduring connection with my husband. I felt that we were soul mates. While we were wonderful together for a long time, that ended as well. We have two children, a son and a daughter. I felt so connected to and needed by these amazing beings. I was their center, I grounded them as they grew. When they were born I wished for both of them to be strong, loving, and independent. They are both exactly that, in their own unique ways, and so much more. I wished for them to be close to one another always, to be able to rely on one another. After all our siblings are often the longest relationships of our lives. My siblings and I were not raised that way. Closeness with my siblings was what I desired, and so, what I wished for my children.

With Covid, and the trajectories of our lives, I have felt my connections with my children weakening. Not our love for one another, but our willingness to reach out to one another both for casual everyday connection, and in time of need. Maybe that’s just a natural part of the growth process. My children are adults with their own lives.

Our weakening connections have been especially hard. I view our connections as part of what makes us strong and able to manage anything that we’re faced with in life. I do not believe that any one person can ever meet all of the needs of another person. I believe that all of our important relationships offer something unique and of value that is irreplaceable. I have often said that the reason I am able to go out big in the world is because I have my people to come home to, figuratively if not literally.

Being locked down through Covid and physically separated from my son and daughter for longer than ever before has been extremely hard on me. I haven’t seen my son in two years. I’ve been fortunate to have seen my daughter several times during this time, but far less than usual. The physical distance is hard.

I am blessed with a wonderful partner, also a preemie, who loves me, understands me, and supports me more fully than anyone ever has. He truly sees me and his desire for connection matches mine. I am fortunate that I have found my home with him. He is my person. He is my heart.

In many cultures around the world the bonds within families, the bonds between parents and children endure and are strong for a lifetime. I wonder why in our culture we push so hard for independence and doing things on your own. That seems unnecessarily difficult to me. I wish that we could recognize the importance and significance of the basic human need for connection. I wish we cherished and nurtured those connections that make life so much fuller and richer.

Maybe I feel this need for connection more strongly than others do because of that first month of going it alone in an incubator. Maybe that’s why I understand the African violet’s need to touch in order to thrive.

The Florence Journals: Reflections on Connection and Child Birth

On September 22, 2014 my friend Andrew’s oldest daughter had her first child, a son. While this is his fourth grandchild, he is the first I’ve been around for. If, by around, I mean thousands of miles away in Florence, Italy. Since Tiffany went into labor, I’ve reflected a lot on pregnancy, labor, and birth. I remember when I was pregnant with Stefan, hearing the lyrics to the song “The Story Goes On” from the musical Baby. They had a profound impact on me.

“And all these things I feel and more
My mother’s mother felt and hers before
A chain of life began upon the shore of some primordial sea has
stretched through time and reached to me
And now I can see the chain extending
My child is next in the line that has no ending
And here am I feeling life that her child will feel when I’m long gone

Yes all that was is part of me as I am part of what’s to be
And thus it is our story goes on
And on and on and on and on”

I was overcome with emotion when I heard this song.  I spread my hands across my body, amazed both by the precious life I was carrying and the realization that I was where every woman who had ever carried a child had been. Every mother in history had shared the waiting. Some had shared the uncertainty, the fear. Some had shared loss. Ultimately, all the women in my line had known the reality of bringing forth new life, some into contexts of privilege, some into pain. Some precious lives were cut short. Some were long and fruitful. But the chain from those women, my kin, was unbroken through time to me. Mother to mother to mother to mother for countless generations, and now, I was carrying the line forward. And now I was on the brink of becoming a mother. It felt overwhelming, but also calming to recognize the long line of women who had gone before me, whose lives led me to this point. I also felt hopeful for all the women who might come after me, continuing the line of women birthing children.

I felt a strong connection to my mother, to her mother. I called my mom to share these lyrics, these feelings with her. We cried. We laughed. We talked for hours. Our connection strong. We had a common understanding that I was carrying into the future.

Today I wish for Tiffany this joy of connection, of realization, of awareness of all who have come before and her contribution to all who will follow.

  • Baby is a musical with a book by Sybille Pearson, based on a story developed with Susan Yankowitz, music by David Shire, and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. It concerns the reactions of three couples each expecting a child. The musical first ran on Broadway from 1983 to 1984.