Have you ever heard a woman talk about this intense feeling and yearning to have children, like their body craves having a child? I never experienced that. There was no clock ticking, no maternal instinct that kicked in, and no deep, intense yearning to bear children. No. Not me.
I cried when I learned I was pregnant. And I cried almost everyday that I was pregnant. My story isn’t a romantic one and how I got to this place isn’t a piece of a love story, but I will tell you about that another time. This is about BEING a mother and a woman, it is about the isolation of that, the trauma of birth and the body, about losing my freedom, and searching for a sense of value outside being a mother or perhaps being ok with being a mother first and all else after. Motherhood- the actual loving of my child, isn’t where my struggle lies. It is where motherhood meets forty plus hour work weeks, exhaustion, loneliness, disappointment, money- or lack there of, having to do it all-alone, not knowing who to ask for help, knowing there are only a few who can help, wanting to share all these moments with someone who loves us, wanting to give your child everything with what you have now, knowing one day I will have to explain the absence of her father, forgiving myself and finding myself again- it is where all of this intersects that being a single mother becomes a seemingly super human task. Because it is a lot. And all the while, trying every second to raise a child without damaging them. Motherhood isn’t monolithic. It isn’t the same for us all. We didn’t all become mothers in the same way, we don’t live as mothers the same and we are not all the same woman after we become mothers.
Motherhood requires sacrifice, for some less than others, but in one way or another we have relinquished parts of ourselves. Some of us are fortunate to have been replenished and many of us still need to find that. There are abundant joys in motherhood. Make no mistake about that. But motherhood is complicated perhaps because we were women before we were mothers. And we carry with us the trauma and obstacles of that life in addition to the new lives we now have as mothers. And for those of us doing this on our own, without family to cushion our falls, or partners to ease the load, there is loneliness in that, it is terrifying at times, and moments of deep frustration. For me, part of the work of motherhood is finding and loving the woman in me that is home to that mother. It is making sure everyday I don’t lose myself, my mind or my spirit. I cannot be a mother without preserving and uplifting my womanhood. Sometimes, it feels impossible, and then other times I feel such ease and peace.
There isn’t a day that I don’t experience joy in being a mother, or that I am completely enamored with my daughter. I learn something about myself through her and vice versa, daily. But I also yearn for my freedom every single day. I yearn for moments of solitude, not silence, but the space to be able to choose to be alone. These yearnings do not come at the cost of also yearning to be with my daughter. These feelings are not mutually exclusive. But what motherhood brings with it is the relinquishing of the forms of self-care I had become accustomed to and as a corollary the many iterations of my self that I had become so used to catering to. From the moment I became a mother, I learned that I had to ask or create the space and time to take care of myself. And there are certainly moments when I loathe the presence of that constraint. There have been few things in my life that have confined my spirit, but motherhood has both released and confined it. That I suppose is crux of motherhood.
My pregnancy was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. I felt an impending death. It was as if my body and my spirit colluded to exorcise me of my past life. I was sick everyday of my pregnancy, cried daily, lost so much weight I had to be hospitalized and felt the most sad I have ever been. I was grieving, I am sure. When I gave birth, I pushed 9 times and my daughter came out of me with her eyes wide open. I felt empty, vacuous. I remember feeling relieved that it was done, but feeling like a shell of my former self. I wasn’t happy or sad, not tired or particularly awake, not scared or confident, but ready. The woman who had lived in my body died that day. And on that day I gave birth twice.
I sometimes look at my daughter, and I get so anxious to teach her everything I know, to take her all the places I want to see and want her to see. I become overjoyed at that idea of giving her a life I never had. It is in these moments that I realize this is where the healing is. That while, for me, the death of “me” gave her life, she continues that cycle and has given me my opportunity for rebirth. There is no piece of me that feels the same anymore. Every part of my physical self manifests itself differently now. My hair feels different and grows at a pace I never experienced in my youth, my breasts have taken a new shape; one that now I find ingenious after having given birth and seen the magic they produce, my legs seem longer now- much more limber as if I am prepared better now than I was before to walk away with ease from anything and anyone that does not deserve me there. And then there is my spirit….the sense of myself and my happiness. I keep searching for the woman I was, thinking she must be in there somewhere. I remember often the things and people that used to make me happy, how I would smile differently and I remember fondly but cautiously the lightness I carried. But I also see myself now as something different. Because the lightheartedness and free spirit I had embodied before had also betrayed me. And being a mother now, I find myself guarded against that, whether it be people, or a job, or energy elsewhere; motherhood has given me a sense about the world and people that I didn’t have before. Where I may have been strong before, there is a fierceness that burns inside of me now. Where I found consolation in mediocrity before, I abandon it quickly and all together avoid it now. And where I had loved recklessly, I am now deliberate and careful about whom I choose to love and how. But motherhood taught me that. It taught me how to protect myself and all the magic I embody, It taught me that I MUST love myself in order to teach love, give live and accept love. And perhaps all those years of freedom, of mistakes and missteps were waiting for something inside of me to give shape and form to an otherwise chaotic life. Perhaps what I did not recognize is that I was looking for something, anything outside of myself to give to while what I needed was something born inside of me to give me the rebirth I had longed for. I have found the beauty in that. I would not be the woman I am without being a mother. I am eternally grateful for that.