The Fabulosity of Stay-at-Home Momming
Monday, February 23, 2009
When you're pregnant, you discover that every woman who's ever had a baby suddenly wants to tell you her birth story. Women you'd barely spoken to at work suddenly are keenly interested in the progress of your pregnancy, and desire urgently to describe to you in painstaking detail their own pregnancy/labor/delivery experience. You appreciate the encouraging stories, suffer panic attacks from the scary ones, and begin to wish in general that people would just quit talking about it already. Being pregnant is terrifying enough without the lurid descriptions of labor pain from the woman whose epidural line came out after an hour and nobody believed her when she said she was in pain, or the dire tale of the woman who needed an episiotomy and couldn't have sex for a year afterward, or the woman whose labor lasted 43 hours and ended in a C-section.
But you get through it. You have the baby with a little (or a lot) less dignity than you'd hoped, but it's sort of made up for by the awe you feel at the fact that you just squeezed a baby out your wee-waw (or had it cut out of you in a C-section) without either dying or going insane from the pain. Suddenly you're a parent, the event you've been anticipating for the past nine months is over and done with, and you're supposed to settle down and raise the perfect child after they let you take it home. If it's your first (and maybe even if it's not), you take a few days to pick yourself up off the floor after the responsibility comes crashing down onto your head. After a few sleepless nights and several days spent trying desperately wipe the deer-in-the-headlights look off your face while you attempt to navigate this new life, it begins to sink in that nobody is going to show up to take this kid and pay you twenty bucks for your time. It's yours. Yours. And you have to take care of it even if you haven't slept in three days and the milk's gone sour in the fridge and the catbox is overflowing and the dog needs to be taken out and you're hungry for something besides cheese and crackers and all your friends want to come over to see the new baby and you're down to the last roll of toilet paper. There is no escaping this responsibility, and you start to have moments where you think it might actually kill you. It doesn't, of course. You get through it however you can, and at the end of each day you wonder what the heck happened to that pleasantly child-free life you used to have. Your baby is amazing, and you love him or her, but man, this shit is EXHAUSTING. You begin to understand why rich people hire nannies.
At some point, you start seeing people again. Maybe you go to work part-time or you're only venturing out to the grocery store, but one way or another you start to see people. And just like the birth stories, you discover that after the obligatory exclamations over the baby's cuteness, they all want to ask you some variation of the same question: "Don't you just love being a mom?"
There are many ways to answer this question: you could refer laughingly to the lost sleep while assuring your partner in conversation that your baby is totally worth it; you could describe the magic of her smile and how this is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream; you could answer in the affirmative but mention wryly that you could do without the dirty diapers and midnight feedings. Lots of way to phrase it, but only one right answer: yes.
The answer that is entirely unacceptable, of course, is "no." Even though every woman who's ever had a baby understands the torture of sleep deprivation, the endless frustration of trying to entertain a baby with a three-second attention span and a hunger for new stimulation, they still expect-- maybe even need-- you to expound enthusiastically on how much you love motherhood. If you should have the unfortunate judgment to answer honestly, and your answer is not the one they expect, the shock and horror you encounter will rapidly convince you to lie in the future.
I learned the hard way. Somebody asked me if I was enjoying parenthood, and I laughed and said, "Not really!" The asker reacted as if I'd just told her I store the baby in the oven when I don't feel like playing with her. She physically recoiled with this look of horror on her face and said incredulously, "Really?"
No, not really. I just enjoy the feeling of being judged by people who believe they already know what I should feel!
If you want to know the real truth, there are moments when I question the sanity of any woman who claims to love taking care of babies. If you want even more truth, there are moments when I question my own sanity for even having a baby in the first place. I love my baby, certainly, and I do my best to give her a good life, but I cannot honestly say that this experience is one I'm particularly loving at the moment. I miss sleeping in, and I miss drinking coffee when I'm sleepy in the morning. I miss drinking wine with dinner. I miss having time to myself, and being able to do chores at my leisure instead of trying to squeeze everything into naptime. I miss working and going to school, feeling like a person with goals and a plan for achieving them. I miss going out on weekends, meeting friends for the occasional short-notice happy hour, eating dinner whenever I felt like it, spending quiet evenings on the couch with a book.
My life has been turned upside-down, and yes, I knew it would be, I expected it, I read all the books and blogs and advice columns, but the thing that has surprised me is this expectation that I should be enjoying it. "Enjoy this time!" I am regularly exhorted. "They grow up so fast!"
You know what? I would welcome a little growing up right now. A little room to breathe. A kid instead of a baby. A full night's sleep.
Maybe I'll look back and regret that I didn't savor babyhood. Maybe in the future I'll remember this experience fondly and advise new mothers to enjoy it. Right now, though, I'm just trying to make it through each day without surrendering to the nagging feeling that I've given up everything that made me me, to reassure myself that it will not always be like this. I'm trying to figure out how to be a good mother without sacrificing my identity entirely.
I don't love this, but that doesn't make me a bad mother. It makes me human.
Now quit looking at me like that.
Posted byMJ at 12:18 PM