I stopped believing in God on Friday, January 21, 1994.
I was two days shy of my seventeenth birthday.
I’d woken up that day, excited because my friends were throwing a party for me that night to celebrate (being high schoolers, everyone had to work that weekend). I’d just finished up breakfast when my mother stormed into the kitchen, upper lip curled up like a snarling dog and barked at me the words that would shatter what faith I had at that young age: “Your fucking father told me he was filing for divorce last night. I hope your happy. This is your fault!”
Initially, I was more shocked her words weren’t followed with a slap or her going for a wooden spoon. You see, we had a deep dark secret in our family: the woman who adopted me was emotionally and physically abusive. In front of others, she’d keep up the face of the perfect mother, though on occasion her temper would get the best of her in front of friends and family (there’s a story in our family of my Uncle Richard once stepping in to stop her from hitting me when she went too far), and shortly there after, who ever had witnessed her behavior would mysteriously be gone from our lives.
I knew the divorce was coming. In October of 1993, the night of the homecoming game my junior year of high school, my mother had a friend stop by the house. She told me to go try on my dress to show her friend. My date for the game was due any moment, and I was already wearing my mum, a heavy number that required four large safety pins to secure to my shirt. When I told my mother no, her response was to grab me by my face and slam my head against the wall and tell me to not talk back to her in front of her friend. At the time, I had braces, and she lacerated my mouth so badly in one spot from the brackets I still have a flap of gum that never healed properly. Knee jerk reaction to the pain and the blood filling my mouth, I had slapped her. She’d pulled back her hand to hit me across the face and I ran down the hall to my parents room. My father, who had been crippled for some time stood in between us and told her to leave me alone.
I never saw my mother’s friend who’d witnessed the event again.
Four days later, when my mother was out, my father came home from work early, something that never happened. He sat me down in the living room, and told me that he could no longer watch what our mother was doing to us, and after the holidays, he would be filing for divorce. He asked me to be as strong as he knew I was, most especially for my younger brother.
I left the house that morning, sick to my stomach. Rather than go to school, I called my father’s office and told him what mom had said to me. He told me to take the day off of school, and that he and my mother had agreed they’d wait to tell us kids together. But mom being mom had to have the last word.
That last word shattered my faith in God. What type of God would allow me to be conceived by a fifteen year old girl who couldn’t raise me and be adopted into a family where the mother was insane and would spend her life as a parent warping two innocent children into believing they were unworthy of safety, of home, of unconditional love? What type of person could do that to the child she had vowed in front of a judge to love and protect?
Through the rest of my teenage years and through my twenties, I held onto the belief that God didn’t exist. Because there was so much hurt in my world: my childhood, an abusive first marriage, health problems. Even the birth of my first daughter after a diagnosis of infertility didn’t shake my belief I was alone.
I refound faith two months shy of my 32nd birthday with the birth of my daughter, Autumn.
Autumn was over two years of fighting my body to have a second child. Autumn came after three rounds of clomid that did nothing except hyperstimulate my ovaries and cause me to spend two months in bed recovering. Autumn came after a much wanted pregnancy that I lost after twenty months of trying and having my heart broken month after month, of my brother and his wife finding out they were having their second baby two weeks after I lost mine. Autumn came after an exceedingly painful surgery that added to the abdominal muscle separation I’ll be having surgically fixed right after my thirty-eighth birthday in 2015.
What would have been my due date with the baby I lost in August of 2007 was the day I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter.
I spent my pregnancy with my second born terrified. Nightly, I’d lay on my side, my hand on my stomach and whisper, “Please, please, be born. Please, stay with us. Please let me be your mother.” The idea of a second miscarriage, especially so close to one that had thrown me into a deep depression was my worst nightmare.
As my pregnancy progressed, things went perfectly. Or at least they did with my body. My emotions? Those were a wreck, and there were many emergency trips to my OBGYN’s office, my heart pounding in my throat over the smallest twinge. I was blessed to have a doctor who was more interested in keeping me calm than being annoyed at my constant worrying.
I was scheduled to be induced on November 25, 2008. On November 24, I laid down in bed at 11:30, smug in the knowledge I’d get one last good night’s sleep before I gave birth. One hour later, at 12:30 a.m., my labor began with contractions lasting thirty seconds and coming every three minutes. I spent the time walking our apartment, concentrating on my breathing, and begging the baby on the way to please have a safe delivery.
We took our oldest daughter Amethyst to my brother and sister in law’s house at six that morning. My sister in law Catie would be joining us at the hospital later that day when my brother got home from work, and he would be watching their two boys and Amethyst if I was still in labor.
My nurse at the hospital, Paige told me when I arrived that it was a lucky day to be born: it was her son’s eleventh birthday.
Everything was going as it should until four p.m. when we began losing Autumn’s heart beat. “Take her out of me, now. Do a cesarean. Just please, please, please, make sure my baby girl is okay.” My blood pressure started climbing due to my anxiety, and at that point, I did not care what delivering the baby might do to me, even if I died, if I heard her cry and saw her before I went, I’d of died happy knowing I had brought her into the world. I’d already signed consent forms and was about to be rolled into the operating room when a change in my position brought Autumn’s heart rate back to normal and caused my labor to progress much more quickly.
At 8:06 p.m., Autumn Morgaine Norrgard came into the world, took a huge breath and screamed her head off. The doctor placed her on my stomach, and Jasmine, the nurse who had taken over when Paige’s shift had ended brought a blanket to wrap my baby girl in before placing her in my arms, still screaming about the gravity in the room and the change in her environment. Her head turned towards mine, and I saw her eyes, and immediately found my faith.
After every hurt in my life, after all the losses and the abuse and the hellish road to motherhood for a second time, I looked into a face that was perfect and understood truly for the first time that all things happen for a reason. I’d of given my life for the one in my arms without thinking of it, something my mother never would have done. And I would never, ever forget how easily that which we love and fight for can be taken away from us.
My life as a survivor of childhood abuse has brought me the knowledge of what not to do as a parent. It has taught me patience, it has taught me to love unconditionally, to see the gift, the miracle that not only Autumn, but Benjamin and Amethyst truly are. As parents we are blessed with the great honor of shaping individuals into who they will become as adults. And I protect that honor and am grateful for it every day. Even when my kids make messes. Even when they whine. Even when they tantrum and fight with one another.
I used to ask my father if he loved my brother or me more than the other. And his response was that he loved us the same, just differently. I never understood that until Autumn was born. Of course you love your children differently: they are different from one another, so the love is different. The amount of love though, that’s not. It’s infinite. There’s no end to it. It’s mind blowing how much it fills you and sweeps you away and changes you so much you’re no longer who you once were, and it’s change you are so damn grateful for it moves you to tears.
Out of my three children, Autumn is the one who is most like me, both in looks and temperment. “My God, she even has your legs!” a friend of mine had said when he met her. And it’s true: She has my legs. She had my eyes, and my smile, and my freckles. She has my balls to the wall, do or die, go after what you want and fight for it tooth and nail and do everything with a passion that can’t be matched. She loves deeply and kindly. She’s generous. She’s compassionate. She looks at the world and finds beauty in small things: the way strawberries grow from teeny tiny seeds into something wonderful to eat, how the colors of the trees change in the fall, how the progress of an inch worm is slow but still deserves cheering on.
Autumn brought me back to faith. Maybe not the faith my father raised me to believe in, but faith on my terms. That there is a higher power up there, watching over us and wanting us to find our own path. That there are gifts waiting for us. That it’s not in our hands, but in the hands of something greater than ourselves.
I look at my second daughter and I realize that she is who I would have been had I had a mother who had actually loved me. And I know I was meant to be her mother because I would kill to protect her natural growth into who’s she’s meant to be. She’ll never doubt her mother loves her. She’ll have support no matter what she has a passion for (which is currently baby dolls and the color pink). She’ll have acceptance at what’s different between us. And she’ll have birthdays where I celebrate the fuck out of the simple fact that she’s here, she’s Autumn, and she’s breathing.
Happy Birthday Mini~Me. Thank you for bringing me back to faith.
(otherwise known as Amber Jerome~Norrgard)