Living things change. They adapt and grow and die. Trees leaf out, snakes molt, babies grow up into frat boys. It just happens.
So why is it I thought the moment I had a baby that I would be a full-grown mother?
It came to me a few months ago when I was talking with an adoptive mother at the park. She brought home her baby boy 4 months ago, and he was now a year and a half old. “It’s been hard to relate to the other moms with kids his age because we’re just hitting the 4 month mark of having a kid,” she said. Without even thinking, I said, “Yeah, I mean, he’s an 18-month-old baby and you’re a 4-month-old mom.”
That means I’m a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom. And back when I was wondering if I would ever feel like a “natural mother,” I was a 3-week-old mom. A newborn. I was 4 months old when I was white-knuckling through my exhaustion, anxiety and depression.
Thinking about my mom age this way makes me feel better. It helps me have more compassion for myself in those first few disorienting months. Things often felt wobbly and strange. Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to feel this way? We don’t expect newborn babes to come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare. So why do we expect the equivalent of ourselves as mothers?
So for my Mother’s Day gift to myself and to all of you, I’d like to let us all be the mom age that we are.
For a mom in her toddler years, I feel like I’m doing okay. I don’t have everything down to a science, like my 7-year-old mom friends, but I’m starting to have fewer tantrums.
How old of a mom are you? Or if you’re not a mom yourself, how old of a mother is the mom that you’re closest to? Does thinking about mothers in terms of their mom age change how you feel or think about motherhood?
Remember the video I posted of my conversation with T when she was 38 weeks (roughly 9 months) pregnant? Well, here she is a month after we had that first talk–3 weeks after giving birth to her baby boy.
I love her willingness to share and how she captures that kind of floaty, coming-back-down-to-earth feeling that I remember from my first few weeks after J was born. Even at more than 2.5 years post-partum, I still feel the challenge that T talks about: to “connect my life before with this new life.”
I started taking Zoloft when I was a 5-month-old mother. I had been depressed before, in adolescence and in college, but this was the first time I’d chosen medication. It worked. And now I’m slowly tapering off of my dose because I want to know what life is like without it. Will my long lost libido find its way home again? Can I be the woman and mother I want to be without it? I hope so.
I cut my dose in half back in December and my dear friend D had to remind me of that fact in January when I was puzzling over why I was zombie-ing out every night with television and a rotating assortment of carbohydrates. Now I’m down to 1/4 of what I used to take and will be Zoloft-free in a couple of weeks. And I feel a lot more sadness.
Since I live in a world that doesn’t save back much room or reverence for sadness, I’ve felt pushed to the margins lately. Like there’s a big glaring part of me that is not welcome. Thanks to my wonderful band of friends, it gets to leak out sometimes, like when I cried on C’s couch during her Easter party about losing my temper with J (he’s been expressing displeasure lately by throwing things at my face). But these are exceptions. A lot of the time, I hide my sadness and think there’s something wrong with me for feeling it.
I know sadness can make people uncomfortable. Hell, I’m uncomfortable writing this. But I think that if my feelings were allowed to take up more space, they would actually take up less.
In my experience, there is little that feels more cathartic or relieving than this: when someone you love fluffs up a nice soft spot for your melancholy and invites it to sit down and stay a while.
So in that spirit, I’m just going to go there.
Here, in all their glory, are my reasons for feeling sad today:
I’m sad that it feels like I have to choose between depression and libido.
I’m sad that J’s blankets and puzzles and diapers and a whole bunch of old photo album stuff is strewn across our kitchen and living room since we re-organized this weekend.
I’m sad that we live in one of the most expensive housing markets on the planet Earth.
I’m sad that my boobs are little withered sacks of their former selves and that my pants won’t button since I stopped breastfeeding J as much.
I welcome you to join in. Really. I’m guessing there may not be a ton of places where you’re allowed or encouraged to feel sad in your daily life either. So I would love it if you would use my little comment box as your personal sadness repository.
I started interviewing new moms for my “Becoming a Mother” video series back in December. Getting to know them and editing the footage of our conversations (albeit slowly! I’m aiming to post another video soon, of T and her baby at 3 and 7 weeks postpartum) has reminded me of the joy and power of sharing our stories. It connects us to each other and reminds us we’re not alone. And I can think of no better way to steward new families than to share the specific taste and texture of the joys and sorrows of this experience. In that vein, I asked a writer that I met through the kick ass Get Born community if she would write some guest posts on my blog about her experience of becoming a mother the second time. And she said yes! So allow me to introduce you to the unflinching writing of Lesley L. McKinley. She’s 17 (ish) weeks pregnant right now. And we get to hear what she’s thinking and feeling about this baby #2 business every month! Thank you, Lesley.
I can’t get a read on this baby at all. Who the hell is this kid? I mean, with my first, her whole identity was mapped before the end of my first trimester. Her name, our secret codes, handshakes, and a seed of feminism so deeply imbedded in her soul that it would sprout a giant, magical beanstalk and she would be able to climb as high as she liked. She would be my daughter, a reflection of all that I have come to learn about this twisted world. She would see the beauty, yes, but she’d be wise and wary, too. Then, just when I was about to pick out her clothes (not pink ruffled crap but onesies with Rosie the Riveter) they told me my future daughter was actually my future son. It nearly stopped my heart. So invested was I in this fantasyland, that I actually wept as if I was grieving her loss.
Now, I have my son here with me in the flesh. He’s mercurial. He’s whip smart. He’s dirty constantly. He’s sweet. He’s my marauder. He would ride the dog to Tijuana if left unsupervised. He’s my boy.
And I only know boys. And I want another. But if I invest in another fantasy, I will miss out on the mystery of imaging both sides. And in the end, let’s be honest. I’ve already been to this show. Pregnancy is now more of an inconvenience getting in the way of caring for my two year old. I puked like a drunken sailor for six weeks, as just one example. It’s not a “magical” time for me right now. It’s exhausting. I feel fat, not radiant. I want to eat everything that was ever made and just completely give in to my gluttonous desires, and use this baby as the excuse. Sometimes I forget about the baby altogether.
For now, I have bigger things to worry about. Like the fact that my marauder can open doors…to the outside world. He ran out the other day and streaked past the mail lady and our landlord coming up the walk. Lucky for us both the front and back yards are fully fenced. I’m attempting to work again, for money, not shells. And I am beginning to think a social life might once again be possible, as the crushing isolation of motherhood has driven me to the eccentric and beyond.
Perhaps when I can feel this baby moving, rearranging my innards, and the heartburn kicks in, I’ll be better able to decide if this baby is Country or Rock n Roll. Right now this baby just is.
So this time around, I am not going to fall in love with an idea. Like I did so many times with crappy college boyfriends. This time, I want to fall in love. Full stop. Not with this whole pregnancy which I find to be a ginormous bummer, but with this kid, this being, this person. And frankly, I am happy to wait until I have this babe in my arms.
Lesley L. McKinley is a singer/songwriter and freelance writer who dreams of changing the world. Raised by wolves and pirates, her irreverent approach to most everything gets her in a lot of trouble, but she wouldn’t trade her battle scars or her sarcasm for all the trophies in the world. A mother, a wife, an artist, and a champion of the underdog, she can often be found outside, barefoot and muddy with her marauding toddler, hatching plots and running wild. She is currently crafting songs for a new album and thinking of ways to meet your pirate needs. Her website is being created as we speak. She also writes on the 10th of every month for get born, an online magazine. Find her there at www.getborn.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other than a couple brief moments of rocking a swaddled newborn to sleep, I just started having some moments of, “now THIS is what I thought being a mom was going to be like.” And J will be 2 and a half next month. Do tell, what were the images you had in your head of what being a mother looked like? And what do they say about the whacked out ideas (or not?) our culture has about “motherhood.”
As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I recently assisted a childbirth class as part of my doula certification. On the last night of the class, all of the couples took turns talking about their fears, how excited they were, what they’d learned. One woman said something to the effect of, “It’s crazy that we’ve prepared so much for and have so many feelings and anxieties about a journey that is, essentially, one foot long. I mean, the baby only has to get from here (gesture to belly), to there (gesture to crotch).”
I was struck how funny and truthful and earnest they all were, and how it seemed that we were all in awe of the same thing—birth as a rite of passage. You’re on one side of that fence your whole life, and then you’re pregnant and know you’re gonna have to cross it. And then, by the grace of god and medicine and your own body and the support around you, you reach the other side. It’s endlessly mysterious and inspiring to me. And it’s just nuts. There’s this baby on the inside. And you have no earthly idea what its actually going to be like until it comes out. And then it’s there. Sheesh.
I decided to pursue my endless fascination with this whole process by having a couple of conversations on video with two women who volunteered from the group – one when they were around 38 weeks, just weeks or days away from having their babies, and one when their babies were a few weeks old. A sort of video time capsule, as it were.
Here’s a glimpse of the chat I had with T before she had her baby. (Turns out, we recorded this conversation 6 days before she birthed her baby boy.) My next post will be a little video time capsule from chat we had last week, when the wee babe was a month old.