“How’s motherhood?” she asked.
I hadn’t seen my friend since Mila was born. Moments before, she commented on how huge my boobs had gotten since we saw each other last. This reminded me that I had forgotten to pump that afternoon. No wait, I had forgotten to pump twice. Which means I inadvertently told my body that “demand” was going down and I immediately started worrying about my “supply”. I said this nonchalantly out loud. My friend looked at me as if I said I liked to pee on the floor.
She is young, in her early-twenties, working night shifts, and posting artsy bathtub selfies on Instagram. I was a lot like her once. When breastfeeding was still an uncomfortable topic and my body untouched by gravity. Where my evenings were reserved for unending “me time” and I could sit on the couch and just relax, no one to care for, and nothing but household chores to do that could always wait till the next day. I recall that it was deeply lonely. But I missed the emptiness a bit. I was briefly jealous of my twenty-something friend’s freedom.
The snorting laugh of my baby snapped me back to my reality. She was thrilled with herself for tasting my shoulder and trying out her new upper and lower teeth. It was all perfectly comfortable. Talking about breast pumps and being chewed on by a baby. My new normal.
My friend repeated her question about motherhood. I was distracted. Between blowing raspberries on my daughter’s neck and trying not to drop her squirmy little body, I’m not sure what I said. Probably that motherhood going great. The exhaustion on my face and my disheveled head-to-toe look I’m sure told a different story.
On my drive home, I began to think about what I would have said if I had an hour or so and an editing pen. What motherhood really has been like for me.
At first when we started “trying” for kids, I would imagine what it’d be like to have a human that depends on you pretty much 24/7. It felt terrifying. I banked on the theory that everyone told me, “you’re never really ready for kids,” and pushed my fears aside. But months of negative pregnancy tests transformed fears of not being ready to become a parent into fears of not being able to become a parent.
We joyously got pregnant after eight months of trying but lost the baby just a few short months in. I was crushed (no, worse…trampled, demolished, destroyed), driving a need for motherhood so deep into my bones sometimes I couldn’t breath. When we were given the “go ahead” to try again, I wished on shooting stars, I prayed every night, I even wore a necklace with a little baby elephant charm on it for good luck.
Mila came a year and nine months later. She was every wish and hope and blessing wrapped up in a perfect little package. I had checked off all the boxes. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.
It might have been Post-Partum or the “baby blues”, but even though I had exactly what I had been dreaming of for over two years, becoming a mom was simply not fun at all, especially in those first few weeks. Even with another human attached to me, I felt isolated and trapped. And nothing reveals the darkness in you quite like when you scream at your tiny little newborn to stop crying because you’ve tried everything else and it all feels hopeless and impossible. You find yourself sitting on the floor in the middle of the night, madly crying and squeezing your baby (a little too tight). You think of all the characters in the movies who laugh crazy laughs and end up in a padded room and you start to understand how they might have gotten there.
People would coo at my daughter and say, “You love your mama the most, don’t you?” I would look around and wonder to whom they were referring. Surely she didn’t love me the most. She didn’t even know me! The me she knew was smelly and moody and slowly cracking up. It felt like I was playing “house” for a while. I did my mommy things and said my mommy words and we all survived that short season of newborn life.
Eventually though, it became much easier. Caring for her was almost like caring for myself. As if she were just an extra arm or something. It didn’t feel like an additional list of tasks to complete every day, it felt like breathing. Only every once in a while did those early feelings return of being trapped. Like in the middle of the night, when she’d wake up again for the fifth time, I’d swear under my breath or pray to the great God of infant slumber that she would please, please, please, please go the f*** back to sleep. (I have a theory – that God hangs out in heaven with a mirror and deflects these desperate prayers back down to Earth as a bit of a joke on new parents. It’s not funny God…no one’s laughing.) But these moments were almost always paired with something so beautiful, I can hardly remember them. Hardly…but maybe that’s due to the sleep deprivation.
Before I had Mila, I thought for sure that if I just reached the next rite of passage that I’d feel better about living on this earth. While becoming a parent didn’t really fix anything, it has transformed me. Motherhood has chipped away at my pride, my perfectionism, and my attempts to control this wild ride. I’ve hit my head on things way more than I ever used to. I’ve found my pant’s zipper down more times in the last eight months than I have in my entire life. My house is pretty dang gross these days. And I’m pretty sure I pee every time I sneeze now. Life still has its super heavy moments. There’s still loneliness and worry. Make that ten-fold worry about doing it right and having enough money and trying to make sure you haven’t “pruned” the wrong synapses of your baby’s brain by letting her look at the TV too long.
But within all this real-life-shit, there is so much more joy than I could have ever imagined. There are heart-exploding moments practically every day. I feel things for my child that I have never felt for another human before. It’s as if we have always known each other. My girl is wild and silly one moment and then completely concentrated and serious the next. She gets deeply distraught when I set her down sometimes. I know it’s probably just a passing phase, but her need for me (and I for her) feels spiritual. I know the days of her looking at me as if I’m the very best human on this planet are limited. People in the grocery store like to remind me of this all the time – “enjoy every minute, they grow up so fast!” Seriously, why do people say this? I don’t go around saying to middle-aged people, “Enjoy every minute, you are over half-way done with your life!”
I live in “the now” much more than I used to. Not necessarily because I’ve learned how to be all Dalai-Lama zen but because I’m too busy and sleep deprived to think about tomorrow. I find myself thinking more about each season of life and the good and bad that come with each. Not because I’m necessarily more reflective, but because Mila’s baby clothes have helped me section off each stage of her little existence into convenient three month increments.
Maybe I didn’t need an hour to explain myself to my friend. What I wanted to say to her, maybe even to my younger self, was something trite, and not original, and perhaps a copyright infringement:
Motherhood is the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever known.
Before I became a mom, people would always say this to me and I didn’t like it. I thought those words were a reflection of the person’s attitude, not their reality. And I really didn’t want the first part to be true, especially if I was signing up for that gig. But it’s the truest thing I’ve heard so far.
© 2016 D. Willson