If someone were to ask me how I'd sum up motherhood, I would call it the great disappearing act.
It starts immediately. You pee on a stick and see those blue lines taking shape and immediately, everything is different. You are different. You start to worry. What have I eaten this week? How much did I drink? Oh God what If I've hurt this baby already? Then the physical changes begin. Food you used to love now makes you run to the toilet to throw up because you caught a whiff while walking by. You're exhausted. So exhausted that you fall asleep in the middle of speaking. Sex? Ew. It's the absolute last thing you want to do with nipples so sore you scream when water from the shower head hits them.
Before having Nola, whenever I heard my friends or other women say that they didn't want children, I either judged them (because who wouldn't love a beautiful happy baby?) or didn't believe them. I thought that once they met the right person or got hit with baby fever they'd inevitably change their minds. I know now how worthy a child-free life is. I don't regret having my baby, but that doesn't mean that becoming a mother hasn't been the most difficult thing I've ever experienced.
Becoming a mama changes everything. Your body, your relationships, your capacity for almost anything else. It even changes the way you think and hold information--mom brain is real. God forbid you mention, even for a moment, that motherhood isn't all you thought it would be or that you don't always like your baby or that sometimes you miss the life you had before you became a mother. There is an erasure that happens to a woman when she becomes a mom. It's like who you were before you gave birth begins to evaporate. Everything becomes about the baby and for a time you're either just a vessel carrying it or the person almost solely in charge of keeping it alive. You, whoever you were before this, does not exist.
Somehow in all of this, you're supposed to still function like you did before you got pregnant or gave birth. You're meant to bounce back physically and mentally like your organs hadn't literally been rearranged in your body to make space for a tiny human. You're supposed to nurture and lavish affection on this baby while meeting all of the demands of work, maintain your relationships and still find time for "self care."
Add on to that, that as a society, we don't respect mothers.
In this country, we don't offer women universal paid maternal leave. The luckiest of us get about 12 weeks (or 3 months) of leave, though depending on the employer you might not get your full paycheck. If you have to or want to return to work, you have to find childcare which isn't subsidized by the government and costs about the same amount as a one bedroom apartment in most major cities.
Likely your entire paycheck goes towards covering this expense so really you're going to work to pay for someone to watch your baby which you do because you need a fucking break. If you're black woman, you're at a significantly higher risk of actually dying while giving birth because the medical community (and this country) is imbued with racist ideologies which stop doctors from believing us when we say there is something wrong.
I haven't even touched on the mental load of motherhood. In those early days being so consumed with your baby and his or her needs that you forget to eat, piss, shower, sleep or shit. When you try to take a moment for yourself to do any of those things, you think you hear your baby crying. Sometimes you do. Mostly it's your anxiety and the baby is sound asleep. If your partner is a man, odds are he's dropping the ball left and right.
Suddenly this previously capable man has become another baby you have to take care of, one that you still somehow are supposed to want to fuck. You resent his ability to get up and leave the house without having to pump or make 35 lists to make sure the baby stays alive while you're gone. His career hasn't taken a hit, his body is still intact and people still see his worth outside of his new role as "daddy." His bare minimum gets celebrated as hands-on parenting while you--damn near running to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion--are doing the expected job of mothering.
And maybe the hardest part of all of this is that you can't say this to anyone else, except maybe a few mom friends who get it, because you'll be judged. Shit you already judge yourself all the time anyway. Being a mother is an insanely joyous and lonely experience. In an instant you become the singularly most indispensable person to a small human who needs you for everything. You are the literal center of a tiny universe, everything orbits around you. But who does the sun look to when it needs to be warmed? When it needs a break?
Motherhood is and isn't everything it's cracked up to be. I like to joke that being a mom should be classified as a mental illness because it is absolutely insane. As I'm writing this, I know that in a few months, Shep and I will start trying for another baby and if I'm honest I'm terrified of being pregnant again. Why I would put myself through pregnancy and those early foggy days of newborn life again? But then I think about little baby kicks, and sweet baby breath and how beautiful that first latch is and my heart can't help itself.
But being a mama is so much more than those picture-perfect moments people post about on Instagram. It's trying to be a full human in a society that begins to erase your autonomy the moment you find out you're pregnant. It's living in a country that celebrates mothers one brief Sunday in May but then refuses to pass legislation that actually affirms the love, respect and honor all those pretty Hallmark cards profess that we, as a society, have for the women who carry life in their bodies and use their own to protect and nurture it. We love to champion the martyr mama, the one the suffers silently and somehow constantly makes a way out of no way. But we demonize the woman who demands the right to do what they want with their own body.
Maybe if we lived in a different world I could tell you that having a baby is the best thing ever, but I can't say that to you now. All I can say to you is that before you chose to have a kid, really think about yourself. What do you want out of this life? What makes you happy? What things on your bucket list do you still want to accomplish? Are you happy, really happy in your own body? Do you feel strong mentally? Do you have enough support in your village to help you raise this child? Do you have enough money to give this child the life you want it to have? Are you having this baby for you, or because your mother (or mother-in law) wants a grandchild and you feel like it's your duty ?
I realize how ridiculous I might sound since I have a baby and am telling other women not to. And I realize how ungrateful this could come across to any of my readers who are trying to get pregnant or struggling with infertility and or pregnancy loss. But that doesn't make saying this any less true.
You are so much more than what your womb can carry. Your life, however you live it, is already full of meaning and purpose. You don't need a baby to affirm it.
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