Mothers are not the nameless, faceless stereotypes who appear once a year on a greeting card with their virtues set to prose, but women who have been dealt a hand for life and play each card one at a time the best way they know how. No mother is all good or all bad, all laughing or all serious, all loving or all angry. Ambivalence rushes through their veins.
There are so many clichés about motherhood that to explain my opinions on the matter is to risk adding to an already long list. However, I shall try my best. On August 2, 2003, when Rhiannon was born, I became a mother. Some will argue that I became a mother the moment my husband and I conceived our daughter – sperm meets egg and “bam!” – motherhood. I disagree. To me, motherhood is a much more complicated, lengthy process; a badge to be earned. For those first nine months, I was more of an incubator. My body nourished this tiny being as I carried her around constantly. My food became her food. My breath and heartbeat kept her alive. But I could not see this child, or even feel her yet. I felt oddly disconnected from this magical being growing inside of me.
Once she started kicking, it became more real. And once we confirmed it was a girl, I started to really feel my heart expanding. (Yes, “confirmed” – somehow, I just knew she was a “she.”) Although I was thrilled to be pregnant, I began to feel the pangs of guilt right away, as the societal “norm” often failed to match my own experience. I expected to be glowing and happy every minute of every day. I wanted to relish every second of this pregnancy, feel joy at every movement, and be thrilled as my belly grew on a daily basis.
Most of the time, I truly was happy. But my chronic anxiety reared its ugly head at times, especially in my third trimester. As my uterus expanded exponentially, I started to feel suffocated. Lying on my back, it was hard to breathe. I could not banish the thought that no matter how strong the desire, I could not take her out or take her off – not even for a second. I had been taken over by this person growing impossibly large inside of my own body. I was stuck like this until she decided to come out. I often fought back panic and almost ended up in the emergency room after a particularly terrifying anxiety attack. I did not tell anyone how I felt; after all, I should be one hundred percent joyous. And this claustrophobic, suffocating feeling? Well, surely no one else was plagued with such crazy thoughts. I kept them to myself. One afternoon nearing my due date, I was putting her tiny clothes away and had another anxiety attack upon the sudden realization that in a matter of days, an actual person would be wearing these clothes. What was I doing? I was going to be a mother? I had no idea HOW to be a mother. I would be responsible for her very life. ME. I was terrified.
After a short, but painful and difficult delivery, Rhiannon was born. She weighed in at nine pounds, three ounces and was twenty-one inches long. Although I required oxygen near the end and was threatened with the terrifying forceps (“just PUSH!”), she was absolutely perfect. Perfect round head (not flattened!), perfect little fingers and toes, and perfect, wide, knowing eyes. I will never forget how she looked at me, as if to say “wow, you really have no idea how to do this, do you? Well, we will figure it out together.” Ready or not, I was officially pushed into motherhood. There was no turning back.
For 36 hours, I enjoyed the hospital bubble – the nurses who would come to my aid with the push of a button, and whisked Rhiannon away to the magical nursery so I could sleep. The nurses gave me a quick tutorial on how to breastfeed (yes, it is a natural, beautiful thing; no, it is not intuitive). Before I knew what hit me, I was deemed fit to leave the hospital with a two-day old child. I practically begged the nurses to stay – even if for just one more day. They smiled politely and reminded me that my health insurance would not pay for that luxury. I was wheeled out of there by a reassuring nurse who told me that I would be “just fine.”
The days following my release are a blur of exhaustion and tears – my daughter’s and mine. Of course, I loved her. From day one, I would have thrown myself in front of a bus for her. But being a mother was just so terrifically difficult. She would not latch properly, so she was not getting enough milk. She therefore became jaundiced. Immediate guilt ensued (“I cannot even feed her properly!”) She did not sleep well, and wanted to nurse every five minutes. I was depressed and anxious and desperate for sleep. More guilt. One particularly brutal night, I woke my husband and told him (in all seriousness) that he should find another wife. I was not cut out for this. I could not do it anymore. I would run away and live the rest of my life in solitary, knowing that another, more stable female would raise my daughter. To my husband’s credit, he laughed and told me to go to sleep. Somehow, that moment made me realize that perhaps I was not as alone as I felt. And was it possible that my feelings of craziness were actually normal?
As the days went on, I became accustomed to the exhaustion. Breastfeeding became slightly easier. At one point, I decided to accept the fact that she would require formula supplementation. I relaxed a bit. In fact, I actually started to enjoy nursing, as the endorphins flooded my body and I realized that my body was again nourishing hers. I enjoyed Rhiannon. I loved to watch her sleep. I took endless pictures. I was starting to know my daughter. I was starting to truly love her – no, fall in love with her.
Now, she is almost nine years old. My husband and I laugh at these early, crazy days. Yes, life is much easier now. But motherhood is an ongoing process. Every day, I become a little more her mother. With each passing day, month, and year, my motherhood badges increase in number. I have become more patient than I ever thought possible. I have learned to step away a bit and let her make her own mistakes – learn her own lessons. I have wiped tears, cleaned up after bouts of sickness in the middle of the night, and tried to kiss her pain away. I have remembered how to feel joy and awe at the sight of butterflies alighting nearby and have learned to love the magic of a starry night all over again.
I believe that before she was born, Rhiannon chose me to be her mother. I feel privileged and honored to be chosen. It is a huge responsibility, but an incredible joy. And if I had to pick one “a-ha” moment in the last eight-plus years, it is this: although there are a few things I can teach her as she grows, one of her missions on this earth is to be my teacher. Thank you, Rhiannon.
Mom. Wife. Vegan. Attorney. Writer. Spiritual. Animal-lover and a New England sports fan.
- Mother’s Fantacy : Debunking Myths (bestisyettocome.wordpress.com)
- Motherhood on Mother’s Day (jennyonthespot.com)
- Thoughts on Motherhood (joyinthemoments.com)
- Embracing the Mess by Cathy Moryc Recine (bestisyettocome.wordpress.com)
- What “Motherhood” Means (alifeinmonochrome.wordpress.com)
- A celebration of motherhood… (nicholeheady.typepad.com)