5 days ago
Friday, November 21, 2008
What does that word evoke for you?
Last weekend, while dining in a restaurant with Jason and our girls, I saw the personification of that word for me. Two couples were sitting at the table next to us. One childless, the other with a precious little girl, who I would guess was about a year old.
As I often do (with such unabashed delight), I eavesdropped. The dad and the childless couple were discussing all sorts of office issues and how the economy was affecting change in company policy and the delights (or not) of daily commuting. The young wife was speaking with a new sense of adulthood, proud of her maturity as a grown woman; a married, yet independent professional. Her husband was enjoying the social experience of dining with friends. Across the table, the dad was engaging joyfully in the conversation. Happy to be out with friends. Proud of his latest success in life: fatherhood. But, one look at the mom's face and I had to fight the urge to cry and take her hand and run with her to anywhere. Anywhere but where people had no idea what she was feeling and experiencing in that moment. She needed understanding. She needed to feel a sense of belonging. And it wasn't going to come from any of the lovely people sitting at her table.
Motherhood evokes blackness for me. A loss of self. Yes, there's joy too. But that's overrated (in the early years). The fact is, motherhood is the great divide between youth and experience, freedom and dependence. I do love being a mother, but those early years… well, you moms know what I'm saying. I wish someone had told me….
American society (as seen on TV, magazines, movies, and books) packages motherhood as an image of pastel cooing, quiet softness, and women who are transformed into warm, lovely creatures who give of themselves unconditionally. When I got pregnant I cheered. I had been hoping to start on life's grandest adventure. And everyone I knew beamed with anticipation. People were genuinely happy for us. Support for pregnancy could be found everywhere: the monthly OB visits, friends and colleagues who were already moms, neighbors, even strangers in the grocery store provided friendly advice. All cares were focused on "mom".
Delivery was an amazing, inspiring event despite the hard work (I was fortunate to deliver naturally-- no drugs, no interventions). I was well prepared. For two weeks life was grand. That hormonal high was wonderful, the baby was beautiful, and life felt like an exciting adventure. Then everyone went back to their routines, their daily lives, their comforts.
Except me. For me, life was changed forever. And no one seemed to notice. When visiting, all focus was on the baby. No one seemed to notice that I was no longer me. I didn't know where my pre-baby self went, but I missed her terribly. Because in her place was an exhausted, depressed, over-sensitive caregiving machine. Insurance paid for one post-partum OB visit. When I walked into my doctor's office she said the sweetest words that I had heard in all of my six weeks of motherhood: "I don't want to talk about the baby. I want to talk about you." But fifteen minutes doesn't last long enough.
I have since read and learned much about motherhood. How our society masks the truth about motherhood. How our quest for independence and small, self-contained nuclear families inhibits women from receiving adequate support in early motherhood. How we are considered a "container crazy" society that deprives our infants of necessary touch. How there are cultures in the world whose babies don't cry (not because their babies are aliens, LOL), but because of mothering practices. And how poorly we educate our children about the job of parenting (though those new computerized dolls sound great-- a far cry from the egg that my partner and I nurtured for 2 weeks in tenth grade!).
So I sat in polite silence, preserving the privacy of our neighboring table in that restaurant. But my heart has been with that mom all week. I hope she finds her "self" soon. I hope she holds her head high as her world focuses on diapers and sleep issues and daily routines that consist of a neverending string of 10 minute tasks. I hope that her friends and family don't leave her behind as they grow socially and professionally, all the while telling her that she's doing "the most important job of all." And I hope that she finds others who understand and give her a sense of belonging in the world.