Motherhood. The word sails through my mind at random yet with increasing persistence. Maybe because I’m getting closer to that age. Maybe because it’s around me more. Maybe because this is how it happens. A word enters the brain, slowly, over time, becoming a thought, that thought then nestling into the body, unconsciously or consciously propelling it into action, into life.
Yet every time I try and imagine it, it feels as opaque and elusive as a far away dream. I know at thirty-two, thirty-nine, forty-two, whatever age I decide to have children, the act will initiate a tremendous change to my life. Life, as I knew it, will cease to be. My life will be split into before and after children. I know that carrying life, giving birth, being responsible for some part of me, will alter my existence. But how?
Sometimes I feel as if I’m on a tightrope, waiting for some to push me off towards one direction. Make the decision for me. Because whenever I try and take it seriously, I can’t. Like standing on the edge of a freezing pool, I can’t get myself in far enough to take the plunge. There’s too much I don’t know. Too much I don’t understand. Too much I feel I’m not ready for.
How do you prepare for motherhood? How do you know what you’re getting into? How do you know when it’s time? Everyone tells me, you’ll know when you know. Other say, there’s never a right time. But what no one’s telling me, especially my new friends with babies on their laps, is what it’s going to be like.
They tell me about the love and the glow and the glory of it all, but it feels like everyone’s hiding the messy parts. The parts I really need to know about. The parts I want to prepare for. Do you ever feel like you’re not a good mother? Do you feel trapped? Do you worry about losing yourself?
Maybe they aren’t telling me because they don’t want to scare me. Maybe they’re not telling me because they don’t want to tell themselves, for fear of unravelling whatever semblance of peace and happiness they’ve just constructed. Maybe they think I’ll think less of them, think they made a wrong choice, think that my life is better. But don’t you think we should talk about it? The messy, terrible, life altering moments that come with the glory of giving life?
In Meaghan O’Connell’s book And Now We Have Everything, she explores the difficulties of new motherhood. Not just the physical aspects, but the emotional, everyday toll it takes to raise a child. In 2001, fiction writer Rachel Cusk switched to non-fiction in her memoir, A Life’s Work, to give an honest portrayal of what raising her daughter’s was like. The book was met with harsh critique, as many didn’t feel it was positive to point out the dark parts of such a joyous part of life.
But why not? Shouldn’t we be preparing each other? Talking about the difficulties that come with the joys? The lows and the highs? Maybe then we won’t feel so alone, so frayed, so split when it happens.. Maybe when I’m breaking down some days, it’ll help me to know that these moments of pain and frustration and fear are normal, are part of it. That it’s supposed to feel like this.
“What if,” as Meaghan O’Connell said, “instead of worrying about scaring pregnant women, people told them the truth? What is pregnant women were treated like thinking adults? What if everyone worried less about giving women a bad impression of motherhood?” As a woman preparing for the life altering course known as motherhood, it would help to know what I’m truly getting into. And reading these books, these words, feels like preparation.
Motherhood is a great test. It involves enormous submission, and to submit without being extinguished is what is testing. And it is a business of gifts and revelations as well as losses and bewilderments, of great visibility and significance alongside feelings of utter invisibility.
— Rachel Cusk
“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.”
― Debra Ginsberg
Day and night bled into each other, coalescing into one big nightmare. My clothes were indistinguishable from pajamas. A lamp was always on. We were in the middle of what felt like an ongoing emergency. Like someone was playing a practical joke on us. Endure the car crash of childbirth, then, without sleeping, use your broken body to keep your tiny, fragile, precious, heartbreaking, mortal child alive.
― Meaghan O’Connell
In her first year of life the baby barely closed her eyes; her tiny body writhed and screamed for hours, with an unsuspected energy and endurance. She was quiet only if I carried her around the house, holding her tight in my arms, speaking to her. But the splendid creature wouldn’t sleep, she seemed to fear sleep, like her father. What was wrong: a stomach ache, hunger, fear of abandonment because I haven’t breast-fed her, the evil eye, a demon that had entered her body? And what was wrong with me? What poison had polluted my milk?
I felt abandoned but with the impression that I deserved it: I wasn’t capable of providing tranquility for my daughter. Yet I kept going, doggedly, even though I was more and more frightened. My organism was rejecting the role of mother. And no matter how I denied the pain in my leg by doing everything possible to ignore it, it had returned and was getting worse. But I persisted, I wore myself out taking charge of everything. Since the building had no elevator, I carried the stroller with the baby in it up and down, I did the shopping, came home loaded down with bags, I cleaned the house, I cooked, I thought: I’m becoming ugly and old before my time.
– Elena Ferrante
All these people keep waxing sentimental about how fabulously well I am doing as a mother, how competent I am, but I feel inside like when you’re first learning to put nail polish on your right hand with your left. You can do it, but it doesn’t look all that great around the cuticles.
– Anne Lamott
This is one thing they forget to mention in most child-rearing books, that at times you will just lose your mind. Period.
– Anne Lamott
For the first six months of Albertine’s life I looked after her at home while my partner continued to work. This experience forcefully revealed to me something to which I had never given much thought: the fact that after a child is born the lives of its mother and father diverge, so that where before they were living in a state of some equality, now they exist in a sort of feudal relation to each other. A day spent at home caring for a child could not be more different from a day spent working in an office. Whatever their relative merits, they are days spent on opposite sides of the world.”
― Rachel Cusk
People don’t accept mothers who drink too much wine and yell at their child and call him an asshole. I get it. I do it too. We can accept an imperfect dad. Let’s face it, the idea of a good father was only invented like 30 years ago. Before that, fathers were expected to be silent and absent and unreliable and selfish, and can all say we want them to be different. But on some basic level, we accept them. We love them for their fallibilities, but people absolutely don’t accept those same failings in mothers. We don’t accept it structurally and we don’t accept it spiritually. Because the basis of our Judeo-Christian whatever is Mary, Mother of Jesus, and she’s perfect. She’s a virgin who gives birth, unwaveringly supports her child and holds his dead body when he’s gone. And the dad isn’t there. He didn’t even do the fucking. God is in heaven. God is the father and God didn’t show up. So, you have to be perfect, and Charlie can be a fuck up and it doesn’t matter. You will always be held to a different, higher standard. And it’s fucked up, but that’s the way it is.
-Nora Fanshaw, Marriage Story
Maybe under the stress of new parenthood, whatever adult personality I’d concocted was being stripped for parts, and I would be left with only my teenage core.
― Meaghan O’Connell
It’s as if you fabricated your very own torture.
― Elena Ferrante