Today I tweezed. While I waited for my son to wake up, I tended to the wilds of my eyebrows, knowing each hair could be my last. Yesterday, I managed to change the duvet covers and cleaned the shower.
Strange how these chores, these little things have become small triumphs in a day, how it’s these banal tasks that remind me of a life before baby.
As you know about six weeks ago, I had a little boy. He was two weeks early, natural, and drug free. I arrived at the hospital 7 cm dilated. I wore polka dot socks.
Those of you with children know how much your life changes upon their arrival. No, not changes, transforms. People told me, warned me. And in theory I understood. But at the risk of offending those of you who don’t have children, the reality is you can’t know how total the life change is, how painful, how complex it is until you’re in it, and while I could try to explain it, and you would get it in theory, practice is something else entirely.
I know I should tell you how adorable he is. About his chubby cheeks and tiny feet and little fingers. About his big soulful eyes and his cupid bow mouth and how I am filled with a new found joy. But the fact is I cried my baby blues. I mourned no longer being pregnant, mourned that now that I’d popped out the baby, I would no longer be able to ‘pop out’ to do anything else. I mourned my pre-baby freedom and looked with a kind of terror towards this new life where my life was now inextricably linked to another’s. I was afraid of my little boy because of how much I would fear for my little boy.
I think my transition was made all the rougher by a rocky start to breastfeeding, by his low birth weight. Perhaps even the fact that I’d worked and yearned for him for so many years made the actual getting somehow oddly bittersweet.
Don’t get me wrong. I laugh as I discover the power of an exploding diaper, or as I’m standing helpless as he pees on me. I do the nights with quiet determination. I’m finding patience doesn’t become me, but it’s there. I’m using my corporate organizational skills to manage chores and baby and some rare commodity called sleep. I’m doing the job.
But the truth is the first few weeks when my mom came to help, I handed the baby to her because I didn’t know what to do with him after I’d fed him. I told a friend of mine, if she’s on the fence about babies not to do it. That you have to want this. That there are moments when I honestly wonder if it’s worth it, if I can’t change my mind and return to before.
I tell my husband I’m a bad mother. That on the richter scale of mommyness, I’m not scoring very high. How else to explain the wistful yearning I feel at times for my old life, for an unbroken stretch of sleep, for the need I feel every day to define myself against all this maternalness? Aren’t I supposed to be glowing with motherhood, full of unconditional rose-tinged love, floating along the hall at 2 in the morning, humming lullabies while breastfeeding, cooing with peace and comfort as I unwrap yet another mustard filled diaper at 4am? Should I not be a wave of calm against his repeated crying fury? Isn’t that what a good mother does?
My husband looked at me and asked who among all my mother friends was that kind of mother. Which is when I realized she doesn’t really exist, this maternal angel. Sure, she might voice an opinion on a mommy board, but I’ve never seen her in the flesh. Certainly, if I’ve learned anything these past weeks through the tremendous support of my friends is that every mom wages a little battle inside herself even as she kisses boo boos better and rocks her infant to sleep. And unless you’re watching a Hollywood movie or a commercial for diapers, I’ve come to the conclusion the unblemished mother is all propaganda. A myth. Bullshit.
Recently there’s been a few articles about how certain celebrity moms find motherhood so stress free, so much fun, how they can’t wait for more babies. I confess, it pisses me off the way they simplify and glossify the experience. Their management of motherhood must be different than mine (nannies? a busload of nannies?); there is no other way to explain their valium fuelled statements. And while it’s not like I put a lot of stock in what celebrities say, I find this kind of crafted mommy perfection (never mind that it’s coupled with a great post baby body and a soaring singing career) dishonest and unfair. Mit Schlag talked about the secrecy around announcing one’s pregnancy, the code of silence around miscarriage. Well, I’m calling out the secret truth of what motherhood is really like.
That selfless mother who doesn’t question her selflessness, I’d like to meet her. Pinch her, see if she bleeds. Ask her to stop making me look so bad.
Of course the conundrum is I know I could be a different kind of mom, perhaps one who delegates more, who doesn’t let herself get overwhelmed by all she wants to be to baby. But it turns out that’s not who I am. That the only mother I can be (at least right now) is one who feels a frightening and terrible responsibility for this little soul who has kindly agreed to nap in his mechanical swing while I write this. The mom who has hardly left the house in a month for love (and fear) of her boy. Who suffers sore nipples and chronic exhaustion for the love of him. Who takes comfort in tweezing her eyebrows as a stance of independence. Who despite all her whinging would not trade him for anything.
Not even 9 hours sleep.
But it makes me a bad mom. A complaining, worrying, fretting mom who looks wistfully over her shoulder at times even as she shushes in her little man’s ear something she also hopes is true:
that everything is going to be alright.
PS: A warm warm thank you for all your well wishes on the arrival of our baby and Happy Valentine’s Day!