The day before my son was born, I was told that he had stopped growing and that I would need to be induced. There was some concern about the flow of nutrition and oxygen through the umbilical cord. I was terrified and anxious about what this would mean for my baby. Somehow, I made it through the intense pain of a chemically-induced labor with no epidural and within 13 hours my tiny son emerged into the world. It was a labor of love and like any mother, no matter her birth story, I know I would do it all over again.
My son will turn 2 in a few weeks, a milestone that prompts reflection. There were some tough moments. Those first few days when he would only sleep propped on my chest so I had to sleep sitting up. Waking up every three hours to feed him. The agony of sleep training. The stress of dealing with increasingly intense tantrums. The endless fatigue. But there were also such beautiful moments: When he laughed for the first time, or said "I love you, Mommy"; all our snuggle sessions on the couch; and every time I watched him chatting with his daddy as they walked hand-in-hand down the street. These are the moments that make up our profound and ever-evolving journey through life together.
In the months since the Sandy Hook massacre, a new and unwelcome kind of moment has entered my life. A moment when the absolute joy I feel watching my son giggle or sing or run happily across the playground abruptly shifts to a deep sorrow and an aching fear. He is no different than those children. I am no different than those parents. What happened to them could happen to us. In my darker moments, I allow myself to imagine what it would feel like to lose him in such a barbaric way. How lost and angry I would feel. Would I be able to go on living? I still cannot look at a picture of my son without imagining it being displayed on the news in relation to another massacre. In those first few days after Newtown, I felt an intense guilt that I could hold my baby while those poor moms and dads could only reach out for an empty space that would never again be filled with their child's warmth. Imagining that reality is just too unbearable.
My life changed that day. The happiness I felt from being a mother was suddenly cast in shadow. But there is a light. I am not alone. Mothers from all over the country, both Republican and Democrat, are uniting to become one loud, clear voice calling for change. And like the MADD mothers who came before us, we are focusing our attention on the people who have the power to enact that change. We're forming groups in our neighborhoods and calling our legislators. We're rallying on the steps of government buildings. During our babies' naps or our lunch breaks at work we are writing letters and sending emails to members of Congress asking them to take concrete steps to prevent gun violence. For my own part, I have joined a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an organization that was formed the day after Newtown, but which already has chapters in 38 states and approximately 90,000 members. Though I've never considered myself an activist, being a part of this network of like-minded women has empowered me to stand up and speak out for what I believe is right: That no one should be able to purchase a gun without first submitting to a background check. And that there is no valid reason for any American citizen to need a weapon designed to kill dozens or even hundreds of people in quick succession. It's just common sense. Any mom will tell you, you only need to see your child fall and get hurt once before you learn to anticipate and be ready to catch them before their next fall. It is this same instinct that drives me now. I can no longer sit and wait for the next massacre to happen. Starting now, I am part of the solution.
When I think about my son's birth, I think about every struggle he and I have overcome and every achievement we have celebrated. I can't help but wonder what the point would be of our beautiful journey together if it were only to be cut short. Why would his sweet and joyful presence be placed on this earth only to be snatched away? Undoubtedly, some of the parents in Newtown are asking themselves that same question. And though we cannot give them an answer we CAN give them action. The moms of this country will not rest until we have done everything in our power to make the world safer for our children. We're in it for the long haul. This is more than a labor of love. It's a labor of necessity.
Dawn Slegona McDonald is a teaching artist and mom based in Brooklyn, NY. She is an active member of the NY/Greater NYC chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Visit momsdemandaction.org for more details.