Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mama Says Om: Ache

Madam's hand minutes after birth

You thought you knew; were a little smug about it, in fact. You’d read all the books--Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child; The Happiest Baby on the Block; Nanny Wisdom; The Baby Whisperer; the oeuvre of Doctor Sears. You prepared yourself meticulously, getting ready for the most important event of your life. You worked feverishly, trying to quell the voice inside that warned of prior failures, disappointments. But no...this was way too important. You could not screw this up. And you wouldn’t. Your pregnancy passed by like a happy parade.

This is what you’d been seeking all along, after all. Motherhood would fill the empty spaces, wallpaper over the cracks of your history. The dreaded boredom that lurked, gray and sodden, on the edges of your life would be banished forever--what could be more fascinating than this majestic unfolding of a whole new life?

Oh, sure, you are still a modern woman, vowing to light a candle at all of your pre-motherhood shrines. Surely you’ll continue to be the same multifaceted woman you are! So you check in with yourself regularly during the weeks leading up to the blessed event; re-read an old manuscript and half-heartedly try to revise it. But you can’t seem to muster up the interest. This secretly pleases you, because you were hoping motherhood would finally rid you of this pesky desire to be a writer, with all of its frustrations and silences. Forget the manuscript, you are the one who is being rewritten.

Labor should have been your first clue that your ideas were off. You expected it to be painful; in fact, that one fact was the only cloud over your nine months of bliss. You’d spent most of that time braced for it. You searched for the perfect metaphor to dissolve your fears (ah, still a writer after all!). Labor would be like a "baptism of fire, brief but searing". No, still too scary. How about "an orgasmic oneness with the universe"? More optimistic, but doubtful. "How bad could it be?" you reasoned. Everyone else seemed to have done it, and most even more than once.

Labor came like a churning ache, a ceaseless stabbing pain, leaving you unable to do more than gasp. No metaphor could have softened this experience. This was just pain, unambiguous and eternal.

Still, you got through it, and you thought that was the end.

Until the silence slithered into your tired ears. No crying?

Those weeks in the NICU were a different labor, protracted, unrelenting. Somehow you had failed--divided your own heart and left the weaker part to her. But she recovered, in her time, and you allowed yourself to breathe again. The ache subsided. All would be smooth from here on out.

Except not.

At first, they are all physical--the pains of recovery, sleep deprivation, and change. You are weary but cheerful, thankful that the black cloud of postpartum depression has seemingly passed you by.

Until that day it started. Your old selves began to ache like phantom limbs, surprised into being by the catch in a singer’s voice on the radio; by a glimpse of a photo of a leaner, sexy you; by a cheerful pre-baby memory shared with your husband (and oh, you don’t want him to know). You are stunned by a desire to write so intense it shakes you from your skin. You watch it fall around you like snow.

You try to shush these voices, feeling incredibly guilty. Your baby could have died! How could you long for the past so strongly? Do you wish her out of existence?

Adjust, they all say, impatient. But you can’t, not quite. Your daughter’s beautiful face is full like the moon; it crowds out your vision. You yourself are quite small.

You hadn’t expected it--to feel so lost. You hadn’t expected to feel so unborn yourself--mushy, the borders between you and your daughter liquid and translucent. You weren’t yourself, not anymore, and you weren’t quite a mother either. And the ache counts off your days like prayer beads.

As you cuddle your small baby like a shield in front of you, you hear them, the voices like a Greek chorus of chaos. They pull you back and forth in time. Only a blessed few in monks’ robes sing of the now--of the lovely ache of walking your growing child in the twilight, knowing that soon she’ll walk herself. Every moment alone, ripe with pleasure pain. The ache of two new lives stretching past their margins.

The ache of knowing you know nothing at all.

Mama Says Om

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Blogger Jessie said...

Oh, life feels so complicated sometimes. By doing one thing that we love we miss out on the blessed moments of another thing we love. And we are, too often, left with guilt stringing out in too many directions.

But please Mardougrrl, don't hold back and don't feel guilty. Your daughter, as she grows, will be much happier watching you do what you love than see you not do it and reget it later.

You have such incredible talent--please, don't waste it. I have a feeling that giving yourself the time to write might be the greatest gift you can give your daughter.

Today I decided that writing is a hard life--but for some of us it is the only life.

Don't be afraid of it.

11:22 PM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger fern_leaf said...

Wow....Im constantly in awe of your writing, really I am. The last two paragraphs were amazing.
I don't really know what to say but that you have a gift. A wonderful, true talent and you ower it to yourself to continue to write.
Your baby is growing beautifully and it's because of you. YOU did that. She's happy and loved and safe because of you. Don't take for granted that being a good mother is a choice: one that you've so generously made.

11:36 PM, May 16, 2006  
Anonymous Jennifer (she said) said...

First, a beautifully told piece of writing (have you thought about submitting anything to BrainChild or other parenting magazines?

Second, it took a long time for me to work through the ache of finding a way to love my baby/child and love myself too. All of these identities- writer, mothe, person before motherhood were operating at the same time and it didn't always feel very good. It was new. I'd already had trouble claiming writing for myself BEFORE I got pregnant. But two years into my child's life, I just couldn't neglect myself anymore. I picked up writing weekly and I haven't put it down. It's been almost three years since that moment and it is so much easier now than it was before. My son is fine...I think more than fine because he has a mama who cares about herself and so, is teaching him that he should and can care about himself too as his life becomes more full, complicated, etc.

Each time you write something here, you take a step toward a place where it won't feel so difficult. I truly believe this. It's always possible that it won't, but I don't think so.

7:09 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

i'm sorry that you went through all of that. but i'm glad that you shared it with us.

your writing is lovely-- even if the topic was heart wrenching.

7:38 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Such lyrical writing--so strong...I can see we were on the same wavelength for the "ache" theme. That powerful realization of lack of control...as you put it, "a Greek chorus of chaos"--I hear them often too...and you articulated this beautifully.

8:28 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

I don't know how to craft a comment poignant enough to do justice to what you have written. In my body, in my spirit - I felt every word. You must allow this to be read by more people. Please.

It has never quite been resolved for me. The being one with my daughter, yet being a single unit as well, with all the need for growth and development. Therein lies the ache for me. How can you be both? But you are. You definitely are. And you must acknowledge that. The moments of being cleaved; the moments of being separate. They will come in succession. I've been doing it for 28 years now.

11:12 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Alexandra G said...

You are one extraordinary brave woman and I ached for your aches as I read this, for all you have had to endure. I hope it can encourage other mothers to know it is okay to doubt, regret. Yes, there are those mothers who seem to be on cloud nine 99 % of the time and don't get overwhelmed and depressed at the impossible responsibility of it all at times. I just hope you know that your honesty and willingness to "not know" is a strength, nothing less. I hope you have the support you deserve to get through the ost difficult moments, and if you don't have enough of it, don't give up on it. Seek it out without compromise because you deserve everything you want for your child. I don't mean to sound preachy. I just have been there, where something just hurts and being plagued by wishes and needs that have gone unmet. You are a brave person to admit and question and struggle out loud.

7:24 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Shari said...

I think we go into motherhood prepared for the labor and prepared for the activities of daily life with a baby like changing diapers and feedings and searching for ways to soothe. Although it is all new, we muddle through and reach a sense of accomplishment that we can do it, no matter how sleep deprived and exhausted. But, it is what you describe here, that so many of us have experienced but weren't prepared for. Sure, there is mention of postpartum depression and baby blues, but in the hopes that it wont' happen to you. It is brushed aside. Your words describe so honestly the longing for our former selves. You have put into words what others are afraid to say because of the fear that they will be looked as if their love for their child is less than absolute. I don't know how you do it, but you write about it in such a way that it connects and comforts those of us who have been where you are or are there now. I think every mother goes through this to some degree. I can't help but think that you are the perfect writer to write about this on a grand scale. Seek out a publisher for the pages that you have written here. There certainly isn't any book like it on the motherhood shelves. Maybe in longing for your former self, your future self is already emerging.

10:07 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger mary said...

Thank you for the honesty of your writing. What a wonderful gift your daughter will have when she is grown and can see you as a woman and not only as a mother. In the honesty of your writing, she will discover how much she is loved.

10:22 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger chest of drawers said...

Wow! I have 3 children and remember feeling very unsure after my first son was born because, like you I had read all the books but nothing could have prepared me for the pain of birth. But all that you have gone through afterwards is heartbreaking.

11:01 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

Oh. I have goosebumps. Your words have poured in, and they are swirling around, as if I am one of the running coyotoes, Howling at the moon in harmony with other Mothers...
The more we know the less we know. Love is powerful, it can take us to unknown places!

6:35 AM, May 18, 2006  
Blogger andrea said...

I too am just baffled by your ability to write so clearly and with SUCH deep emotion. This was a beautiful piece, full of pain, sorrow, confusion, loss of control...all the things new mothers can feel.
Truly lovely hon, just like you.

8:46 AM, May 18, 2006  
Blogger Nicole said...

It's always a relief to know you're not alone. Thank you for such an honest, thought-provoking story.

2:42 PM, May 18, 2006  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

this is one of the most perfect descriptions of becoming a mother i've ever read...or at least it matches my experience. and why do we keep so silent about it? that is an aching too...the ache of trying so desperately to hold in the truth. i had a similiar idea that i had planned on writing this weekend but i just don't know that i can put words to it the way you did. there is such an ache i feel for my former self and it's sometimes mixed with guilt too. thank you for writing this! it's spectacular!

4:38 PM, May 18, 2006  
Blogger J.Valentine said...

as a mother of 5, I loved your recount of my own experiences...such memories of the first days of motherhood...I truly enjoyed your blog and wish you lovely well.

1:04 AM, May 19, 2006  
Blogger Shelley said...

Wow, what a totally great post. So clear in its description of a not-so-clear state. I wonder if mothering might be shifting and looking different now that folks have access to eloquent honesty like this... all of our expectations shifting and growing as we listen to each other.

2:27 PM, May 19, 2006  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

My god, this is such an achingly beautiful and poignant post. Gorgeous writing.

2:56 PM, May 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never know quite how to respond to your comments...in email (but what if you are commenting without it linked?), in the comments section (but will you come back and read it)? But I needed to tell you how incredibly inspirational and helpful and thought-provoking your comments are. Not just for this post, but for all of them. They truly help me keep writing, and for that I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

4:45 PM, May 22, 2006  

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