“The world is full of women blindsided by the unceasing demands of motherhood, still flabbergasted by how a job can be terrific and torturous.” – Anna Quindlen
I am not sure anyone could have explained the enigma of motherhood to me before I had Pepita. I would’ve thought that I understood it, and yet, I was so surprised to find myself, a few days after my daughters birth, crying on my husband’s shoulder in the shower while my tiny daughter slept in the bassinet we’d rolled in the bathroom. I needed his help physically—after all that laboring & pushing, it hurt my belly muscles to lift my arms to wash my hair—but more so, I needed him there with me emotionally. I sobbed to him, “I’m just so exhausted by this love.”
I was shocked to find that I needed time to myself just weeks after her birth—that I felt those words I heard my mother, and her friends say—“I feel like I am losing myself. I’m just someone’s mother.” Even so, just 2 hours away from her when she was 5 or 6 weeks old, and I felt as if someone had literally cut my arm off. Something was missing, something wasn’t right…I felt homesick—I needed her in my arms again.
7 months later, I still find myself in that paradox. I find myself needing time with my husband. It’s so easy to just always be looking at, always talking about and to your baby, even when you’re out to dinner with your partner—she’s sitting there in the high chair, banging chopsticks on her head and chewing on the edge of the table, and you and he aren’t a couple—you’re the parents of this cute little monkey. And so you want time together, to focus on each other, and you worry yourself sick about it but you find a sitter, and you clean the house and pump milk and cut up organic apples and celery for her to snack on. You instruct the sitter on how to put her to bed and what story to read and how long to rock her. You make it out the door, somehow, breast pads inside of the REAL bra you’re wearing for the first time in who knows how long, and all you and your husband talk about the entire date is the baby! It’s something, still, to hold hands at the dinner table instead of trying to keep everything away from your octopus of an infant…and it’s something, to go to a movie, something your loud chattering baby would never allow. But even still, you never stop being parents, and you especially never stop being a mama—because while you watch the actors on the screen and snack on popcorn, you still feel your breasts growing heavy and full, and you still feel that ache inside—because something is missing—someone is missing.
I find myself in desperate need of uninterrupted time to read, to write, to go to the bathroom, all without worrying that any moment the baby may wake from her nap or grow bored with her toys. I find myself in desperate need of socialization—of conversation and laughter outside of how much banana she ate, what her bowel movements were like that day. So I go out with friends, and if they aren’t mothers, I feel a little left out—they don’t understand the way I miss her even then, sitting at a bar. If they are mothers, we just end up talking about our children any way. And while it’s fun, I still love crawling in bed with my husband and that little girl at night.
And so, there is this paradox. This primal beast inside of you—this thing called ‘love’, and ‘motherly instinct’ for your child. You can’t control it; you can’t even explain it. It’s a wave, and one you must ride out. This need to be someone, separate, from the person you birthed, and at the same time, this invisible bond that makes you one and the same. I suppose this is the way we are wired. A cavebaby was not safe away from a cavemother, and so she needed to stay close by. There weren’t pumps and plastic bottles designed to feel like breasts in those days, and the urge is, of course, inherited from our ancestor.
When you’re pregnant, you know you will love your baby—you love them before they are even born. You love every kick and flip (well maybe not every one—the ones that leave your ribs sore aren’t so fun.) But you do not know how desperate, how primitive, your longing for your child will be. It’s not something you expect, not something you are prepared for.
And still, it’s nothing you’d ever trade. It’s what makes that little smile the sunshine of your day—it’s what gives you the energy you need to do motherhood, 24 hours a day, even when you’re sick or bored or stifled or tired. The paradox of motherhood is that most moments really are both ‘terrific and tortuous.’