Well into my second month of maternity leave, now, it is finally dawning on me that I am a mother. You might laugh at this. Didn’t I know I was going to be a mother, from pretty much the moment the pee stick turned positive? Didn’t I fully understand that this was the logical outcome of pregnancy? And haven’t I been a mother for two months now, from the instant our son was born? Yes, of course! But there is a huge difference between knowing something logically, and feeling it within you, as part of your identity. Like peas and carrots. Night and day. I haven’t really thought of myself as a mother until very, very recently. Up until then, while I have been doing plenty of mothering (24/7, including the on-demand breastfeeding and the incredibly sleepless nights), I feel like I have been in shock. Or else too busy treading water to notice anything but the water, and the need for constant motion to stave off the near-drowning.
But now, suddenly, sometime in the last week, I have found myself walking down the street with the baby attached to me, and feeling like this is normal. Like this is part of who I am. That being a mother is one of the ways that I identify myself, just as I think of myself as a midwife, a woman, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend. And there are definitely some moments (fleeting! and few and far between) when this feels normal. Days when I am taking it all in stride. But the transition, here, is that I have spent 34 years on this earth without a son, and only two brief months on this earth with a son. It makes sense that the idea of me as a mother still feels so foreign.
And I was never sure about the mothering part, anyway. When we were talking about getting pregnant, it was never the pregnancy or the birth that I worried about (not much, at any rate)…it was always the mothering part, the being responsible for a new human being part, the raising a tiny baby into a useful and functioning member of society part. So much responsibility on your shoulders, and so many opportunities to mess it up, big time! (One has only to look at articles like this, in the Atlantic last month, to see how easy it is to mess it up, even when trying so very hard to get everything right!)
There are moments when I think that this is all it’s ever going to be: the exhaustion, the monotony (feed, burp, diaper, soothe to sleep, rinse and repeat), the constant cluelessness, the slow dawning on you that life will never, never be the same. This is all I’ve known of parenting so far, so it’s hard to imagine what it will be like 2 months from now, let alone 2 years from now. I know, logically, that he will grow and develop, and that gradually it will become more fun and more rewarding. But for now, this is all you can see. And you think it will never end. And to honestly talk about some of the aspects of being a new mother that often get glossed over, there is a sense of mourning involved in all of this: a mourning for your old self, for your old life, for being able to go out whenever you want and stay out as long as you want, for dinners with friends and late night movies and living your life for yourself and your own pleasure, more or less.
But my beautiful son has also just begun to smile as well, in the last few weeks. It’s one of the sunniest, most freely-given smiles I have ever seen, and he lights up over the simplest things: someone talking softly to him, a long-awaited burp which suddenly makes him much more comfortable, the late-afternoon light dancing through the leaves of a tree. I know this will sound cheesy, but it is profoundly true: seeing his smile, realizing that he’s not just a small, unresponsive bundle of endless demands but instead a small human being, suddenly makes the sacrifice, the sleeplessness, the mourning, the loss of freedom, the strangeness of motherhood all worth it. I am hopelessly in love with my son. Hopelessly? That sounds too dire. Hopefully seems more like it.