Friday, March 21, 2008

Where was I when . . . Hurricane Katrina

A blogger that I really enjoy, Her Bad Mother, participates in a "weekly Friday Flashback coffee klatsch” where bloggers blog on a specific topic. I’m not really sure if anyone can join in, but I think this is a great idea, so I’m participating anyway. It reminds me of the writing exercises from back in the day of my English degree’s creative writing courses. Sometimes it is so helpful to be inspired by a particular topic and I was quite motivated by this week’s topic. Besides, I’m still sorry I didn’t find the time to blog on the topic “OMG [insert band here] like totally changed my life” (in case you’re wondering it was The Split Enz circa 1991 and it’s a long story).

This week’s topic is “Where was I when [insert important global or other event here].” There are several that I recall. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news about Kurt Cobain, my 20 year old self reeling with sadness and horrified that the company I was with did not care one iota about it. I remember 9/11 so vividly, as I was still at home getting ready for work when my regular TV morning show just ceased mid-sentence and the 9/11 coverage started immediately. I remember going to work (the archival reference desk that I worked at all by myself) and not one soul coming in that day and not having a radio or TV, just internet access, and basically being glued to various websites all day. I remember quitting this same job a few days later because I loathed it so much and had a hard time seeing the point in “hamster on the wheel” in the midst of all the 9/11 coverage. I remember the horrific tsunami of a few years ago and being worried sick about a friend of mine that was living in that part of the world, but not knowing how to contact her from my in-laws’ house! I could write about any of these but Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath really stand out for me, not surprisingly because it makes me think of my last pregnancy, my son and becoming a mother.

When I was last pregnant, I started my maternity leave more than 3 weeks before my due date, which in retrospect was way too early. I need to “keep busy” and I may have been better served by going through the motions at work a bit longer. Nonetheless, the first day I found myself at home – washing baby clothes, lugging myself around and just wanting pregnancy to be over, so this next step could !#$%^* start already – was the day after HK hit the Gulf Coast. This meant that instead of finishing Your Pregnancy Week by Week, attempting prenatal yoga and completing my all-around nesting, I started watching CNN and the other 24 hour news stations CONSTANTLY. It was like an addiction – I just could not stop. My husband actually became concerned and forced me to stop watching each day once he was home from work. I was so moved, horrified, involved and emotional which again, in retrospect, I now realize was due in no small part to my raging hormones and my sensitive state. I am emotional and “a cryer” at the best of times, but pregnancy makes me even more of a disaster. I am in no way suggesting that HK was not “cry-worthy,” I just know that my reaction to the coverage was ten-fold of what it may normally have been.

I spent days crying in front of the TV. I donated hundreds of dollars to various US charities for the first time in my life. I could not understand why there seemed to be no immediate response, ready relief and eventually justice for the many HK victims. I could not comprehend how supposed “banana republics” helped their people significantly better and quicker after the tsunami, than the great US of A did in response to HK. I fell in love with Sean Penn, Kanye West and Spike Lee. I found Anderson Cooper tolerable (note: this has not happened since). I felt insane amounts of anger and frustration. I experienced a small amount of bemusement when Cuba was willing and able to send hundreds of doctors to the US to help out and the US said no thanks. I questioned how nations like Bangladesh were able to send financial aid. But what stands out the most in my mind, was that I started to truly understand motherhood for the first time.

There were stories about women birthing their babies in the midst of all this chaos and horror, only to be promptly separated from their babies. There were stories of mothers of all ages being separated from children of all ages. There were stories of lost and orphaned children. There were stories of children dying. There were scenes from all the various places that displaced people were congregating, showing mothers with babies and young children that were filthy, hungry, dehydrated and distressed. Suddenly it all hit me – what would I do? What can they do? What would you do to save your child? How would you care for or help your child with NO resources whatsoever? I just couldn’t fathom or comprehend any of it, but as I rubbed my huge belly I knew that I would do anything to save my baby and I knew that there was no greater pain or horror imaginable than being separated from or losing your child . . . and I imagine not being able to help, feed, or care for your child is as similar a horror. For some reason, seeing all this unfold on contemporary North American soil resonated with me in a way that the many other horror stories I must have seen on the news in the previous 8 months did not. Before I had my son, somebody told me that you never read the paper or watch the news the same way after you have children. She said that every earthquake, abducted child, etc. impacts you in a way that they just didn’t before. I know this to be true now, but HK was the first time I watched “the news” through my mommy filter.

Shameful, of course, does not even begin to describe the response to this event. My intent here is not to politick or rant and rave or examine why things transpired the way they did. If you want that, I cannot suggest highly enough that you get your hands When The Levees Broke, the extensive and awesome Spike Lee documentary. While you’re at it read, Come Hell or High Water by the brilliant Michael Eric Dyson. No, my small, little intent here is to reflect in a simple way on the humanizing and equalizing effect that these larger than life events can have on us. I am a middle-class, white Canadian in the more northern part of our nation. I have never been to any of the parts of the US that were affected by HK. However, my heart was with all those people that I saw suffering, distressed and disappointed on my TV. My soul was with all those mothers who had not been able to change a diaper in days, find milk, formula, water or a cool, clean place for their children to sleep. My spirits actually soared when I saw women looting stores for food and diapers and clothing. When help finally started to arrive, I started to feel a mental peace that I had not had for days. Months later, when I would check on “the recovery” I retained a feeling of desolation at how little was being done, how much still had to be done, and how those that chose not to leave their hometowns were relegated to a shanty-town existence. But really, the long and the short of it is that due to Hurricane Katrina, I feel like I became a mom, or at least had my first understanding of what it was to be a mom, more than 3 weeks before I gave birth to my son. For me, mommyhood will have always officially started with HK and things have never been the same since.

In addition to HBM, here are some links to other bloggers who also blogged on this topic today (sorry if I missed anyone, I’m not sure how this works exactly):


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