Social workers are often called to the job by experiencing trauma in their own life history; I was born from trauma, so it’s my natural state.
My mother was born a matriarch and was skilled in protecting those she loved, not out of choice, but necessity. I feel that this is why she slipped so comfortably into the job of mother and homemaker while my father would be off to field training or war. Parenting came naturally as it was expected of her with every younger sibling that followed. As the siblings came one after the other, she found herself dropping out of school by the seventh grade to work with her older sister at a steam laundry. At home, she took on the task of babysitting her siblings and vigilantly protecting them from the drunken brawls and parental rage that cut verbally and physically on any given occasion. When she moved away with my father, her younger siblings were left to live through continued deterioration of the family and increasing abuse which led to the divorce of my grandparents. This was her only framework for parenting and the beginning of prolonged guilt in leaving them behind to start her own family.
My father was clear about being married to the military from the start, and he was not lying. He went to Vietnam twice: 1962, when my sister was born, and 1969, when I arrived.
He got to welcome both of us into the world but was not present for either birth due to military training and left for war right after saying hello. He missed the first years of both of our lives to fight, and my mother was left alone to tend to the family.
My birth story is filled with trauma and joy.
On a hot summer day in Fort Rucker, Alabama, my very pregnant mother was spending time under the carport of her military housing while my five-year-old sister played in the neighbor’s plastic wading pool with their son. Another mother came up the street and brought her twin boys to join them. It was the summer of 1969, and life was intense and volatile with all the societal changes of the times.
The mother of the twins shared her fatigue and struggles with parenting alone as a military wife. She had twins and one of them, Ernie, was very difficult and would scream and act out daily. The resources and interventions of today were not created or implemented at the time and how to parent a difficult child alone was a daily struggle to his mother.
As the ladies visited and vented about parenting with military husbands, my sister ran up to my mother in a panic. She nervously shared that Ernie was doing tricks and floating on the water. Mom looked up and saw the sweat on my sister’s upper lip that appears every time she gets anxious to this day. She knew something was wrong. Ernie’s mother, who was at the end of her parenting rope, exclaimed, “Thank God, maybe he’s dead.” At that moment, the reality of the situation hit. Unfortunately, Ernie’s twin got tired of his yelling and screaming and sat on him in the water to shut him up. As the mothers went to check on the situation, the panic ensued. Ernie had been drowned by his brother and was unresponsive.
It just so happened to be lunchtime and my father always came home to check in and eat. He arrived on this day to screaming women and chaos. His first responder reaction kicked in immediately and he grabbed the boy to start CPR. Just as Ernie puked up the water from his lungs, the ambulance arrived.
Needless to say, my traumatized mother went into labor three hours later. My father drove her to the hospital and left her at the emergency entrance there as someone had to watch my sister. My mother delivered me alone at 4:55 pm. My father arrived later and the nurses and doctors all celebrated two lives that came into the world that day, both gifts from my father. I came into the world two weeks early and Ernie got a second chance at life.
A social worker was born. •