Being a mother is something that cannot be fully appreciated until it is experienced, at least for me.
It’s not that I ever disdained motherhood. To paraphrase Matthew McConaughey, the only thing I always knew I wanted to be was a mother. But it was always about the children, never because I thought that being a mother would be wonderful for me, exactly.
I read a lot of things about parenthood as an experience and I watched people and I asked questions of my friends who are mothers, but nothing really prepared me for this.
For how easy it is to love her, and how hard.
For how it feels like the most natural, instinctual thing, and how it’s so foreign and can put me into a spiral of overwhelm so fast.
Like marriage, motherhood looked far more mundane to me from the outside than it feels from the inside. Like in the early days of my marriage, I want to say it’s better than I expected but some part of me is also waiting for it to stop being so good.
I’ve used the camera on my phone more in the past 5 weeks than I did in the 5 months before that. This child is so beautiful in my eyes, and that’s partly why, but it’s also because she’s changing so fast. The squirming brand-new baby with her swollen lips and skinny legs and funny-shaped head who broke open my heart when she landed on my chest is already gone. I want her to grow up but I also adore her as she is right now, and I don’t want to forget this version of her. Motherhood is a great gain, and a thousand little losses.
I don’t think my oxytocin levels have ever been so high so repeatedly over such an extended period of time. I appreciate this; it makes this time in my life feel delightful even while it’s not easy. And it’s a little bit deliberate; I did some learning on counteracting baby blues by hacking brain hormones. The single easiest way I’ve found to boost my levels of oxytocin is just to pay attention to my child. Actually look at her, study her tiny hands and ears and the dimple in her elbow. Make eye contact with her beautiful dark eyes. Listen to the little inimitable baby sounds she makes. Feel the velvet of her head and how soft and heavy she is in my arms. This is why I have a little light that I turn on when I’m taking care of her at night, because it’s so much easier to feel affection for her when I can see her.
Generally speaking, the only times it’s difficult to take care of her is when I want to be doing something else so taking care of her becomes something I’m trying to get done instead of something I’m doing. It’s tempting, because I can’t fully schedule when I’m going to take care of her and that means I can’t fully schedule anything, and I do like scheduling things. But it’s good for me. A reminder to focus on what I’m doing now, instead of what I’m doing next.
Yet even as I love her, even as I treasure the midnight hours when it’s just me and her, even as weekends are suddenly something I look forward to because it means I can spend most of the day just holding her…part of me resists.
There’s a part of me now that wants to wrap all my days around her, that doesn’t want anyone else to take care of her for more than a few minutes. And there’s another, older part of me that still deeply enjoys my work and misses being able to move quickly and independently through the world – or even just my house.
Trying to get these two parts to become friends with each other has only been a partial success so far. Whenever I let one of them live their best life, the other feels a bit sad and neglected.
Maybe it would be easier if I would let this new piece of my identity balloon and blot out the rest of me, if I would choose to only be a mother right now. I’ve heard women talking about losing themselves in motherhood, and I’ve done it before with other parts of my identity. But I’ve been unwilling to do it this time, because I put a lot of time and effort into becoming someone I like to be, and because I don’t want to act in a way that will make it hard for me to not resent my child.
Somewhere I picked up the idea that motherhood is defined by sacrifice, but as I’ve been being a mother so far, that doesn’t seem quite right to me. Motherhood is not so much sacrifice as it is inclusion. It’s not that I need to forget about myself and give up my life; it’s that right now I include her and how my choices affect her in all my calculations. And I suppose you could see that as sacrifice, because I do give up things. But it’s about making space for what is most important to me. It’s no different from any of the other times I decided to adjust and refine my schedule, except that I’m more emotionally involved with this new addition.
I wasn’t necessarily going to be done with this right here, but the child who was sleeping beside me is now awake and is starting to breathe a little loudly and kick her legs and move her arms in the way that signals that in a few minutes she will be crying unless someone starts caring for her. And in this brief, slightly suffocating but also slightly magical moment, she really only wants that someone to be me.
Her month-old mother.