Celebrating Numbers

One of my favorite parts of motherhood is how  my relationship to numbers and measurements has changed.  Radically.

Before motherhood, I had a rocky relationship with numbers as often times I would use them as weapons against myself.  If I tried on a pair of size 6 jeans and they were a little tight, it very well might ruin my day.  Or week.

It was a very dark day when I found out my LSAT score back in 1999.  Sure, it all worked out ok, and I got to go on to law school and become a lawyer.  But on that day in July when the mail came with the score, I was a little devastated to see that number.  You better believe I still remember it and am not willing to print it here.

I remember what I weighed the week of my senior prom. I remember my class ranks and my GPAs.  I remember my score from a ballet audition with the Boston Ballet (that did not go well).

On and on, the numbers had the potential to strangle me: My billable hours.  My age.  The number of times I had been a bridesmaid (and NOT a bride). My weight.  The number of hits on my page from a dating website. My salary. My bonus.  Number of calories in a latte.

Some of those numbers were cause for joy and celebration, but most of them sent me reeling into anxiety and depression.  Along the way, numbers had a power over me and too-big of a say in my self-esteem.

The tide started to turn when I got pregnant.  The first time I heard my daughter’s heartbeat on November 24, 2008, it was 145 beats per minute.  I said that number over and over again like a mantra.  I rolled it over my tongue and fell in love with it.  It signaled health and strength.  It was a very good number.

The same thing happened with my son’s first heartbeat. It was early in the pregnancy (7 weeks) and I was spotting.  Terrified, I went to the doctor and they found his little heart was beating at 122 beats per minute. I have never felt such a gratitude for a number in my life.  That number meant Simon was moving forward towards viability.  At its fetal height, Simon’s heartbeat was 166.

I was not thrilled with numbers when I failed my first glucose test (I was 3 points over), but they didn’t crush me.  I felt more interest and concern, rather than utter psychic devastation.

And the Apgar scores, those precious numbers given to rank a baby’s healthy and vitality upon the first minutes of birth.  I couldn’t wait to hear those for both of my children.  Both times I was splayed out on the operating table with my uterus placed outside of my body next to me when I heard those numbers (all 9s both times).  There is nothing more joyous that confirmation that your little beings are healthy and breathing.

Now, when we go to the pediatrician for “well child” visits, we get brightly colored pieces of paper with our children’s statistics on them.  Simon’s head: 90th percentile.  Sadie’s height: 75th percentile.  I don’t even know what it means that Simon’s head is that big, but I always celebrate those numbers because they belong to my children.  Those numbers and measurements signal growth and health and vibrancy.  Those numbers confirm what I already know: My children are irrepressibly alive and thriving. And, of course, my children are so much more than those numbers– those numbers can never and will never contain all of who they are to me.

How come I never learned that about myself?

Until now.

I love my new relationship to numbers and measurements.  Mostly.  I get a little obsessive about the number of hits on the Facebook page for my website (www.outlawmama.com) and I lost about 10 minutes of life recently when I perseverated over someone de-friending my page.  But, mostly the celebratory feelings I have for my kids’ numbers are contagious: I am starting to feel them for myself.  Or, maybe I am finally gaining perspective on what numbers really mean.  Or how much they should matter. Or, most importantly, how much they shouldn’t matter.

— Christie O. Tate (www.outlawmama.com)