It wasn't until I had a child that I realized motherhood wasn't really for me. When Julian was born, all the instincts that came with this new embarkment, though present, felt foreign and not naturally me. I felt imposed upon, like I had been rewired, reprogrammed, all of a sudden. Like I just been informed I wasn't a human after all but a robot, now controlled by a tiny unassuming master. Let's see you come to terms with that new bit of info. My body felt unfamiliar and began new functions automatically. Could this be an upgrade? It didn't feel like it. I still wasn't super happy about realizing I wasn't who I thought. Nothing felt normal, felt right.
The early years were rough and I realize now they were straight up traumatic. That's the funny thing about trauma. You never know it's trauma when you're in the middle of it. I had a baby with a lot of needs and was alone to meet them most of the time. I remember someone asking me early on how I felt about being a mother. I considered it and said, "it's alright." That was the best I could do. Because it definitely had its moments. But I always wondered when I would feel like a mother. It certainly wasn't when I was pregnant. This freakish event felt so completely surreal the entire time and though I enjoyed the novelty and miraculous nature of it, I loathed the feeling of being overtaken by some tiny alien, never knowing what new mystery would reveal itself on any given day, the growing discomfort, the looming, inextinguishable fear that accompanies the unknown. I struggled with it and, given my past experiences, wouldn't even allow myself to believe that anything viable would come of this, something to "mother." Inconceivable. In no way was this possible, nor was tomorrow guaranteed, a lesson I have applied to my general outlook on life. (Heck, on the same day I found out I was pregnant, I also convinced myself it was ectopic and all for naught) Preparing for it felt idiotic because I had no idea what to expect, but more than that, it just didn't feel real that this would be, in any way, a permanent fixture in my life. So "nesting" was definitely not in the forefront (or back) of my mind at any time in my pregnancy. It made no sense to me. Sean read the books on pregnancy and breastfeeding, not me. He shopped for the supplies a baby might need and I came along, very reluctantly. It was all I could do to remain zen and cope and come to terms with it all. All I could do. So when people would refer to me as a "mama" I thought, that's funny, but no. I just have this protuberance in me that seems to be growing. That bit of knowledge was all I could handle at the time.
It definitely wasn't in the hospital when I saw him for the first time. In fact, it took me a long time to even want to. Is this normal for a mother? I am not sure. During labor, I gratefully took meds and when the time came, my body pushed and I helped. He was small and taken away to be cleaned and wrapped and Sean kept asking me if I wanted to see him. "Not yet," I said, because grappling with the fact that something living had just come out of me was all I could handle at the time. I'm still not over it.
I didn't recognize him when I saw him. I admired him and marveled at him, but I couldn't connect him to anything other than a baby who they all told me I was to take home now. In no way did I feel like a mother when I took him to the breastfeeding class but, as I think I've mentioned, when I looked down at him, small and sweet, I do remember thinking what an amazingly lifelike doll they had given me for this class I was apparently to take. The technology these days, I'll tell ya. Do I remember anything else from that class? Of course not.
The instincts came in that I should be taking care of this thing, while simultaneously suffering some post-birth issues. Having expelled the master, my body then turned on me with a vengeance. To this day I untrustingly do all I can do to appease it, to just make it happy for one more day. I learned that it doesn't, actually, work for me, but the other way around. I saw a new doctor 3 days postpartum and several times thereafter. I was on drugs, had a week's help from my mother, bless her, and another week's help from Sean, bless him, and then my survival and that of a tiny one was left entirely in my hands.
The following weeks, months, and years were one great repeated cycle of learning and coping. Learning how to do a thing and then having to unlearn it or adjust the learning to fit a new need. As I said, the instincts came in but they weren't from me. Often I would look at Sean and say, "who is this? How did he get here?" We would joke about our new roommate taking up more than his share of the room, the rent. My friends would talk about not remembering life before kids but I did. I remembered it very well. Because this new change, though earth-shattering, was temporary. I knew it. I felt it. And I had learned to appreciate my life before when I had had it, so yes, I could remember it very well indeed.
I would hear the way other women would talk about motherhood, their
attitudes and experiences. Some I shared and related to but I could
never shake the feeling I harbored of being a reluctant mother. It's
how I identified myself. Yes, I'm in this situation same as you, but it was never really
supposed to happen this way, and certainly not one designed with me in mind. And that has carried on to this very
day, and I've never really met anyone who seems to feel as I do. I noticed I was a
little bit different from other moms around me. They didn't speak of it
the same way I did. I realized it may all have been more traumatic for
me, not because of anything new or different on the part of the wee one, but because of who and what I am. Or
maybe I'm just someone who's willing to admit that though we're taught
that we're supposed to love it, maybe I just don't, really. Perhaps for me, it was more about the job to do, rather than the role to fill. Having Julian grow was
fantastic. Each year was better than the last. I enjoyed him being
small and chubby and adorable because he was very much those things. Watching him learn to talk and [at long
last] walk. Being there for every new thing, every thing at all. But they were also brutal,
those early years, and I said a happy sayonara to each one.
I remember the first time I thought I felt something like a mother. He was a couple of months old and in some discomfort. Like a nature observer who lives and breathes a certain wildlife species, I only noticed the discomfort because I was able to compare those moments to the other 1439 minutes of the day that he and I had been in one another's presence and sense something was different, wrong. He hadn't pooped in a while, something I'd learned was very normal with newborns, and seemed to be hurting, as anyone would. Determined to do something about it, I laid him down on a diaper on a towel on my bed in some dim lamplight, gave him some gas meds, and held his knees up so his bum was sort of in the air. I'm telling you this because the moments I have felt like a mother are so few in my mind, it's worth mentioning. At least the first. And you know what? It worked. He pooped. I did it. We did it. I had accomplished something and was overjoyed that it seemed beneficial that I was to be the one taking care of this tiny one, that it mattered that it was me.
I taught him a lot of things, but so would any adult put in charge of a small person. I loved him the more I got to know him but he also punished me for being his mother, because I knew him best, because he was most comfortable with me, because I was his designated caregiver. I recognized that that was what happened with kids and their moms, that this was a thing, but I really resented it at times. Through it all, I appreciated his existence, never taking any of it for granted, as ill-suited for it as I was. He is an anomaly, a creature of coincidence, and I still can't believe he's here.
These days, I reflect on our time together, watching our relationship take shape and deepen. Our love is strong and he and I dote on each other daily, accompanied by several long and intense hugs. I embrace him whenever he's near and I smell him and squeeze him, poke his dimples, and note his ever-changing height, every time. Because I still don't understand where he came from, how he got here, and I can't shake the feeling that he isn't truly mine. I can't stop wondering when this kid's real mom is going to come and pick him up. I often say things like this to him and he exasperatingly replies, "YOU are my real mom. YOU are." I enjoy it. But me? Mother? No, I don't even know what that means. Long term babysitter? Yes, absolutely. Motherhood is a drag and I am no good at it, but I am an AWESOME babysitter. An amazing babysitter. I give him fun things, tell him stories, teach him tricks and give him a bed at night, all while I wait and wonder.
If I don't feel like a mom now that he's 9.75, I'm not sure I ever will. Designated caregiver, interim babysitter. Steward, guardian, safekeeper? I like all of these things. Friend, sister, instructor, companion, these I understand. Perhaps at times my role is as monitor, a witness. That my purpose in relation to him is to simply watch him grow and see for myself what it's like, the spectacle of life, and that it does, indeed, seem to always find a way. I can get on board with that. Scientist! Every day a new experiment, a new theory postulated. Yes.
But mother? Never. It's a task, a role too great, one designed for failure. It is just too hard. I am utterly beguiled by it. The term is fraught with unattainable, illusory expectation and insurmountable pressure, dictated by presumption and preconception. I subscribe to none of it. In fact, were I to answer again that question I was asked early on, i might say, "How do I feel about motherhood? Actually, I kind of hate it. But, I LOVE him."
A sincere slow clap. This is beautiful. Thanks for keeping it real and for somehow capturing the elusive ups and downs of motherhood. I think you're right. Most of the time, the work/worry/thanklessness/uncertainty generally sucks. But the love for the kid(s) is astronomical.
I am not a mother (spoiler alert). But I have watched my wife learn that role over 13 years and four children. She has remarked many times that the life of a mother isn't exactly what she thought it would be. I would hazard to guess that many mothers feel this more than they let on, but rarely allow themselves to express it.
As an adult I have also learned about my own mother's trials which retconned my childhood a bit. My parents lost their first two babies, who were born very prematurely and lived a matter of hours. When the rest of us were born and survived, they became almost unbearably overprotective at times. I believe they had an overpowering fear that they would lose us. That fear was so deeply rooted that they struggled to even admit it to themselves, and it was only expressed in their actions. I won't presume to understand your experiences, but it does bring to mind the concept of being wounded so deeply, with the wounds only healing on the surface, that we simply cannot risk reopening them. To do otherwise might lead to the complete destruction of the self, so we even close off emotions that are potential conduits to that well of pain.
Motherhood is the ultimate sacrifice, even of one's very identity. But hey, they passed out bath bombs to the moms in our ward.
el-oh-el, bath bombs. Celebrating Mother's/Father's Day at church will ALWAYS be weird to me. Like, why. Why.
I appreciate your thoughts, Joel. Interesting observation of your parents and how they approached raising the kids. I wonder what they would say to your theory, especially now that you kids are grown.
Thanks, Ash. I will take that slow clap any day.
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