Almost six months ago I had a baby. Since then I’ve written basically nothing. (The last thing I wrote says it all.) This lack of “productivity” (I put this in quotes because productive has come to mean something else entirely in the last while, mostly having to do with milk and laundry) is for all the obvious reasons that did not seem so obvious six months ago. In fact, right before giving birth, a friend asked me to look over a piece she had written for a blog about motherhood and in it she said something about how she used to have so much time.
I think my exact words in response were, “I always resent how parents constantly say, ‘I used to have so much time; what the hell did I do with it?’ as though all childless people have nothing to do.'” My friend was very kind and said nothing. Obviously she knew I’d be laughing at myself soon enough.
For a long while I told myself that I wasn’t writing because I was now always occupied, and when I wasn’t, I might want to sit down to eat something warm off a clean plate with actual utensils.
I had no qualms writing about my pregnancy. Mine was on the unpleasant but not at all dangerous end of things and I shared my experiences because it felt natural to do so, a way of processing this enormous tidal shift. But something changed when the baby was actually born.
Suddenly I wasn’t writing about me. And it wasn’t my growing belly — me again, in a new, awkward shape! — that I was sharing. My new little family was the subject. My nascent, fragile threesome. An entity that bears little resemblance to the twosome it once was, that is struggling to settle into itself. I’ve never had trouble sharing details about the baby’s eating and sleeping habits; I don’t even worry about sharing the ugly parts of myself in relationship to the baby — the 3 a.m. moments when I have roused my aching body out of bed for the 12th time and find myself practically yelling, “GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP!”
What holds me back is that writing about new motherhood invariably means writing about a marital shift. It invariably means announcing to the world that you have uncovered parts of yourself and of your relationship that you never suspected (or hoped) would be there — the jealousies and resentments; the complications when a third party enters the dynamic and blows it to pieces. The shrapnel might be beautiful in its own right — and let me tell you, she is one gorgeous, joyful baby and I love her with a ferocity that terrifies me — but it is shrapnel nonetheless.
This is especially hard when we seem hell-bent on presenting our happy families to the world. My Facebook newsfeed is made up of one friend’s beautiful baby (and family) after another. My husband and I have chosen not to share her photo on social media (I do, I admit, slip up when it comes to tiny hands and feet). While I don’t judge anyone else’s choices and get great joy out of scrolling through other people’s pictures — I used to spend hours scavenging through shoeboxes of black and whites at my parents’ house — I am troubled by our desire to broadcast our (helpless, clueless) children all over the internet to mere acquaintances.
They may be of us and dependent on us — and they may be too young to make their own choices — but that does not mean that we know what they would choose, were they able to. (This means I really, really disagree with this guy.) Yes, we now lives our lives (or at least part of our lives) in public. We insist on mirroring our every mundanity online and gussying each up with fancy filters. (I am just as guilty of this as the next person.) Perhaps our children won’t think twice about this, since they will never know a truly private, quiet world. Being an expat, I know the impulse to share my life from afar. My closest friends and family cannot actually hang out with my daughter in the flesh. But is it okay that someone who has not yet said her first word have an online presence; one she did not choose and does not know exists? (Here she is drooling! And eating her first banana with schmutz all over her body! And sick on the couch!) That 600 of my “friends” be able to recognize my daughter, even though they will surely never meet her?
Herein lies part of my writing conundrum. While I love reading about motherhood — especially pieces that really tell it like it is — writing about it means putting people who are closest to me on display. (This makes it sound as though I never thought twice about the people I wrote about before now, but the truth is that either a) I was the subject, or b) the subjects were strangers.)
An old writing professor once told a group of us that in order to write truthfully about someone, we needed to take said person off our metaphorical shoulders. To liberate ourselves by placing our subject in another room.
Perhaps when it comes to my tiny family, I still want to simply be in that new room, doors closed, blinds drawn.