Much to my surprise, a few people have actually asked me for whatever insights motherhood has offered. I really don’t have any wisdom. At all. Most days, I feel stupider than I did a year or so ago. I’m hoping this is still a combination of water-on-the-brain from pregnancy, sleep deprivation (though I can’t complain much), and a necessary side effect of multi-tasking and constant interruption. I’m a terrible multitasker, I lose track of all kinds of things. So motherhood has not been kind to my ability to, say, answer emails in a timely fashion. I also told my husband I’m reluctant to blog about motherhood because Baby doesn’t really have a say about what’s online about her, and I’d rather err conservatively, and I’m already squeamish about how many pics we post of her on facebook and instagram, even though my privacy settings are set to “Draconian.”
With that said, I do miss blogging, so here are a few random thoughts on motherhood.
- I absolutely love motherhood, so much so that I’m almost embarrassed by it.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with loving your baby, but the difference between my mental state before baby and after baby is staggering. My WORST mothering day, when she refused to feed and just screamed and screamed, or when she was suffering some bad reflux and I spent 10 straight hours bouncing her on our big pilates ball and eating nothing myself, or when I broke down crying at 3am from sheer exhaustion, were emotionally equivalent to an average teaching day for me. I have had children scream and scream in class. I have (easily) gone 10 hours without eating in a teaching day (or peeing for that matter) because I had to spend my lunch hour (which is really a lunch 20-minutes) running around doing teacher stuff. I have cried (many times) from sheer exhaustion on the bus at 6am on my way to school. My worst mothering days still brought less stress, actually, because no one was judging me moment by moment on my choices, writing up my technique, pretending that the always-murky waters of caring for little people is somehow a measurable, product-oriented set of procedures and “standards.” I love my students. I hated my job.
And my not-worst mothering days? Which is most of my mothering days? Pure joy. Baby is so funny. And she loves me. Which is a funny thing to say about a person who can’t even talk. My brother observed that me and baby seem to mostly sit around admiring each other all day, and that’s about right.
Yes, there are moments of boredom, and hours when I wish I had a grown-up to talk to, but to be perfectly honest, I was lonelier before she was born. I’ve not made a secret of my apparent inability to make friends in my current neighborhood (3 years and counting). So before baby, I still wasn’t having any adult interaction. You’d be amazed how much teachers don’t actually get to talk to one another. At least now I have someone to cuddle.
I wonder often how much of my (100% selfish) enjoyment of baby’s company will turn out to be problematic. I hope and pray that whenever she eventually desires more independence, I’ll be able to grant it with wisdom and without guilt, that she won’t feel bound to fill any holes in my life. It’s not her job. But she’s doing it right now just by needing me, so easily and naturally. We’ll see.
And I also have a super-easy baby, and that’s where the thin icing of guilt comes in. (Very thin. Very little guilt. Just a twinge.) Because so many of my friends hated infancy, especially the dreaded Fourth Trimester, and had such difficult transitions into motherhood. I was expecting it to be a lot harder. Which is not to say that it’s not hard, it’s VERY hard, especially if you have a fussy baby. But I don’t. She turned into a good eater once she figured out how, and she slept through the night at 8 weeks with very little encouragement. She did have some pretty bad reflux for the first 8-10 weeks (hence my 10 hours on the bouncy ball), and she didn’t truly get the hang of latching until about the 2-month mark (so I’ve had my share of blisters and plugged ducts), and she doesn’t like to be in anybody’s lap except mine for longer than 5 minutes (just a month ago she decided that Daddy can be in her club), and she utterly refuses to eat from a bottle (we TRIED, believe me), so I can’t leave her with anyone. But I find that I don’t really care. It’ll be a few more short months before she’s walking and exploring and it will be my job to graciously encourage her independence, and I’m totally fine being her one and only for a little bit longer.
And – She. Slept. Through. The. Night. At. 8. Weeks. I get an obscene amount of sleep for a new mom. And there’s no way I deserve this in any karmic sense. I was a terrible baby.
2. Goodness, do I even have a 2? Oh, right – Love.
I’m really not sure I have anything meaningful to say here. Mother love is a huge cliche, and I have a personal pet peeve about mothers who go on and on (and on) about how they discovered the meaning of life when their children were born, with the implicit judgment that women/people without children are necessarily less spiritually developed. I always want to say to such mothers “Just because YOU were a selfish, self-centered egomaniac before your children were born doesn’t mean EVERYONE wasted their child-free years that way.” Which is not to say that all mothers, or even most mothers rub me that way, nor is it to say that I avoided selfish singlehood myself, but I know quite a few giving, mother-of-the-faith women who managed to discover God, Jesus, and unconditional love without the intervening biological experience, and sometimes they would like the world to cut them some slack already.
So a note here to child-free people – you are whole and complete and everything is possible for you exactly where you are.
With that said, I am actually having a whole new kind of love experience with baby.
It’s very hard to articulate. I will probably blab for quite a bit in this paragraph trying to pin it down, and still mostly fail. I think the most different thing about this kind of love is the utter lack of walls. In every other relationship in my life, including my marriage, I have huge intimacy problems. Like – pathological. I am constitutionally unable to let my guard down. A lot of people would probably find this surprising since I’m very open with personal information. I’m totally okay sharing feelings, talking through traumas, sharing my birth experience in detail on the internet. In fact, the more of a stranger you are, the easier it is to share these kinds of small intimacies, because I have nothing invested in our relationship. It’s reflexive, and to be bluntly vulgar, it’s kind of the emotional equivalent of a “flasher” behavior – the desperate need to be SEEN, and the total inability to experience that in an appropriate context. The longer I know you, the harder it is to know me. It’s easier sharing ancient history than telling anyone what I need in this moment, what makes me vulnerable in this moment. I trust no one. Or I trust them to fail me.
So my experiences of love have been maybe weirder than most. High on intensity and anxiety, lots of panic, lots of preemptive sabotage (you can’t hurt me if I hurt you first), lots of focus, perhaps, at times of high anxiety, bordering on obsessive thoughts, lots and lots and lots of mechanisms for keeping people at arms’ length and then blaming them for failing me. Like I said, pathological.
My poor husband, haha.
There’s been a lot of healing, or my marriage wouldn’t be possible. I think I can honestly boast a very healthy cadre of true friends – people who are safe, loving, and affectionate, people who care, people who show up, people who will dig through the hard stuff with me and forgive me my lapses in judgment and generosity.
But I didn’t realize how many walls I still had up until baby came. Because somehow, she bypasses all of them. There’s nothing, not the thinnest film of self-protection there. I am heartbeat-to-heartbeat right up against a love of catastrophic proportions. Catastrophic because on the few occasions I get caught thinking about it (usually late at night, or that one time the babysitter took her for a walk and I FREAKED OUT that I’d let a TOTAL STRANGER LEAVE THE HOUSE WITH MY BABY), I realize how much I would lose if she left. If she were taken. All the little paper walls I’ve built, walls within walls, walls that hide walls, walls that are bigger on the inside, walls that double-back and then dead-end just to confuse you, all of those are useless against her. I’ve spent my entire life trying to protect myself from exactly this kind of vulnerability. That frightens me. Not only because of what I stand to lose, but because of the damage I could inflict on her in trying to protect myself from that loss.
Before baby, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to give up my independence. Now I’m worried I won’t be courageous enough to give her hers.
This is also a cliche, but, just as a plea to all child-free people to be patient with their newly-minted parent friends who disappear and never have anything interesting to talk about anymore*, I’m going to spend this small section dissecting a single incident yesterday; namely, how I spent an hour obsessively checking my baby monitor while baby was napping in the other room. It started because
- She woke up with a bad diaper rash in the morning. Which led to:
- She woke up early from her morning nap, crying from discomfort because she needed to be changed. Which led to:
- I decided to let her lay diaper-free on the parent-bed for a while to air out, which is good for her skin. I had to move her to the bed for this because:
- I wanted to let her lay diaper-free for as long as possible, which meant I wanted to get some other things done while she was laying down, which meant that I couldn’t leave her on the changing table because it’s too small, she might roll and fall off. The parent bed is big enough for her to roll several times before coming to the edge, so I have lots of time to catch her, should that become a problem. Which it hasn’t been yet, but there’s a first time for everything.
- Because she was laying on the parent bed, I had a towel and three diapers stacked under her to catch anything while she was laying there.
- So when she decided she was hungry, instead of moving her to our usual nursing place, I just laid down beside her because it was easier than either finishing her diaper change or bringing the stack of towels and diapers with me. But then (because she’d woken early from her morning nap) she fell asleep, which created several new (minute) dilemmas:
- I didn’t want to wake her up by trying to put on a diaper.
- But I couldn’t move her to the crib with no diaper,
- So I had to leave her on her towel on the bed.
- But the bed is right in front of the air conditioner, and I didn’t want her to get cold, partly for her own comfort, but also partly because when she’s cold she moves more and wakes up early,
- But I couldn’t use her usual fluffy pink blanket (her warmest) because she didn’t have a diaper on and I didn’t want it getting messed up, so I
- Had to jimmy a solution with two of the lightest, softest towels we have,
- But she kept kicking them off
- Which meant she got colder, which meant even more kicking and wiggling, which made it more likely that she could:
- Roll off the bed entirely, and/or
- get tangled in any of the other random things that had accumulated on the bed (laundry, spare pillow cases, toys from earlier in the day, etc.) which
- I couldn’t clean off without waking her up, so in order to let her have an undisturbed nap (a precious thing with a baby),
- I had to check her on the monitor every minute or so for an hour to make sure she 1. didn’t roll off the bed or 2. accidentally suffocate on a clean piece of underwear.
This is how much information was firing simultaneously in my head during one hour on one day in which I left the baby entirely alone. Overkill? Probably. Mark of a new mother? Almost certainly. But it’s mainly my job to keep her alive at this point, and I’ve never been anything if not thorough. So the next time you’re wondering why your friend with the new baby is suddenly really, REALLY boring, please take pity and remember that parenthood traps you (for a while at least) in an endless, endless, endless array of MINUTIAE – tiny, microscopic calculations and choices that, despite their size and boringness, each have the potential of making or breaking your baby and/or your day, and sometimes we don’t have room for much else. We’ll swim out again eventually, I promise.
*Also please forgive new parent bloggers who only have time for a single draft.