Friday, August 10, 2007

On Motherhood

A question I get asked a lot lately is "How do you like motherhood?" There are variants, like "So, how's motherhood treating you?" or "How are you doing with this whole mom thing?" or "How do you like being a mom/having a baby/having a kid so far?" I never know how to answer these questions. "Um, I don't know, how do you like breathing?" Because it is a lot like that. Things come automatically. She is here, she is my child, I care for her. These are facts, irrefutable and unyielding. I don't think about it any more than I think about breathing. She slipped into our lives like a key into a lock, all the parts falling into place as the tumblers turn. Besides that, there have been so many changes in our lives over the past two months that it's hard to ponder them individually.

Many times over the past ten weeks my husband has looked at me in wonderment and confessed that I am handling all this much better than he thought I would. These tiny confessions do not anger or upset me, because I know that these statements actually mean you amaze me and I love you fiercely. Children were never on my radar, and neither one of us knows exactly how he was able to talk me into this whole adventure in the first place. He thought I'd have more trouble coping, adjusting, getting into a groove - whatever you want to call it. But it all comes as naturally to me as breathing.

My brain has instinctually recorded and translated her cries, given me a crash-course in Piperspeak. I can tell from the other room when she is hungry, overtired, or scared. I almost always know what she wants or needs, and it is a way of knowing that goes to the very core of my being. This has led to a few crazy-making moments when someone else will be holding her and she starts to cry, and the other person will say "oh, she's wet" or "I think she wants to go outside" or "She just wants her Grandma" *coughmymomcoughcough* when I absolutely know that she's hungry. But I am nice, I do not snatch the baby out of the arms of the other person and say "You're doing it wrong" even though I really want to. I let the other person try their solution for a few minutes. I let them try and pretend that her red-eyed, real-tears-dripping, banshee-howl crying with Extra Vibrato For That Pissed-Off Feeling means she really did want to go outside or be hugged extra-tight or have an extra blanket put on or whatever it is the person thinks she needs that is totally the wrong thing. I let all the Amateur Baby Experts take their turn. And in the end, many of them hand her back to me and say "she needs to eat" or "she's hungry" in some super-authoritative voice, like I was the one holding things up in the first place. Which sometimes makes me want to cry, but I suck it up because I am a nice person and I know that everybody wants a little baby time and I'm trying not to be a bitch by refusing to share.

I love my baby, but I do not say things like "I didn't know what love was until she came into my life" or "I can't imagine my life without her" because they are not true. I was told to expect an overwhelming rush of love, something strangling and drowning-deep. I am still waiting for that. It's more a creeping kind of love, a growing sort of love that is as matter-of-fact as her existence in our lives. It is there, every day, just as she is.

Which is not to say it's all sunshine and roses. In the early weeks, I was so tired and in so much pain (psychological as well as physical) from getting her into the world that I sometimes wished I hadn't. It wasn't that I didn't love her or that I wanted her gone. I just wanted to feel normal again, not sore and exhausted and stressed, and I couldn't help thinking that my life would be much easier at that moment if I hadn't just had a baby. I knew what to do for her, how to take care of her, but that didn't mean I liked doing it all the time. I already felt pressure to be a perfect mom, and our move back to Michigan was looming, with all its attendant financial, familial, and emotional concerns. My C-section left me wounded in body and spirit and there was no time to rest and recover.

Some nights when I was up late watching Six Feet Under DVDs over and over because I was lonely and breast-feeding her every twenty minutes for six straight hours, I would question my ability to do this. If I was thinking things like Oh God, please don't be hungry again and shut up shut up shut up, please PLEASE PLEASE just stop crying and fall asleep already at two weeks, how would I handle toddler tantrums or teenage rebellion? And the thing about kids is: there is no break. Before this, I just had to get through finals week or tough it out until my benefits kicked in or finish that project or wait until we got back from our trip, and then I could rest. Then I would get a break. But with a child, there is no break. There is no done, there is no out, there is no over. It seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but when you are up late with a crying baby and wondering if you'll ever feel like yourself again, facing months until you can sleep through the night and years before you can take the plastic thingies out of every electrical socket in the house and many many years before your house will be cool, quiet, and nap-friendly in the middle of a weekend can drive you mad. It can crush you if you're not careful.

When Piper was only hours old, I sat in my hospital bed and held her as she slept. I had just successfully breast-fed her and was riding the high of my new mama-hood. Oh, yeah, I thought. I can do this. She sighed contentedly, her belly full of warm milk and my arms wrapped around her. I looked down at her tiny face and then looked at my husband, and we spoke of how small things would now mean so much, how we would live for tiny moments. A smile, a laugh, an A-plus spelling test, a prom picture, first steps, watching a bicycle stay upright as she pedaled down the street. It would all start with this moment, sitting there in my shoulder-snap hospital gown, the place where the surgeon had separated her from me throbbing a little as I cradled her tiny body in my arms.

That’s what life is like now; a series of moments. Every day they come and go and I live each one and then try to remember it, hold on to it, keep it with me as long as I can.

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