Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Big Reveal: What Scares Me About Motherhood

The Venus of Willendorf, a paleolithic image of motherhood. 
If you want people to reveal themselves to you in surprising ways, I highly recommend pregnancy. A telltale belly brings a steady stream of people sharing their labor stories, offering snippets of parenting wisdom and unloading their fears and anxieties. It's fascinating.

Pregnancy in Conversation 

"How are you feeling?" is a common question, clearly meant as a friendly gesture. The truth is that my body has very much enjoyed pregnancy so far. I'm in my 19th week, and I've been quite comfortable- no morning sickness, no swelling, no aches or pains. Just breasts that have ripened to four times their normal size- perhaps the size of smallish cantaloupe. What I've discovered is that this question is often an opportunity for the asker to delve into the trials and tribulations of their own pregnancy, highlighting each and every moment of suffering. Sometimes people even seem slightly disappointed when I answer that I feel marvelous.

Another thing that happens when you're pregnant is that people start to tell you all the things you won't ever do again. Now that you're an expectant parent, heels are apparently out, (too hard on your back) as is jewelry that baby may want to grab and cling to. Going to the theater will never happen again because finding a babysitter is nearly impossible, and besides, you'll never want to leave your baby for a single instant.

What Scares Me about Motherhood

I hesitate to even go on the record with these observations, since I concede the possibility that this advice is all true. I know that having a child will change my life in ways I cannot forsee. But to me, that's the adventure of the thing. I'd like to let it unfold without preconceptions.

The thing I fear most about parenthood is a condition of overwhelmed frumpiness. In our culture, the stressed out mom who tries to do it all is both celebrated and vilified. There are at least two prototypes.

The All Star Mom

She's a PTA leading, cupcake baking, designer diaper bag wielding cliche. Her google calendar is overflowing with band practices, birthday parties and horseback riding lessons but she still finds time to have her hair blown out, pull together a chic outfit and run a lifestyle business empire on the side. Let's call Gwyneth Paltrow a prototypical example. Our culture would have us believe that this woman is the ideal who we should all aspire to emulate. If we can't be her, we are doomed to hate her because she appears to succeed where we fail.

The Mom Who Laughs It Off

She has given up totally on herself in order to meet the extraordinary demands of parenthood. She hasn't bothered to find a bra that fits after giving birth and is still running around in a sagging nursing bra with frayed elastic. She hasn't had a haircut in years. Every ounce of energy goes into catering to her family. It's all about feeding them, getting them where they need to be and then collapsing in a heap whenever possible, heaving deep sighs and making humorous, self deprecating comments about how little she's managed to accomplish. Our culture idealizes and condemns this mom too. There is a special kind of adoration  for her self sacrifice and willingness to become small in the service of others. And yet, we also wish she could just get it together.

And then, There's Parenthood. 

I feel convinced that there is an experience of parenthood that exists beyond these dualities. What babies do is simple: they exist in the present moment. That's what makes them such holy beings. We look at them and recognize how special it is to live in a sensory world without judgement. We marvel at their life of unknowable possibility.

I believe the job of parenthood is to observe the unfolding of a child's life as it happens across many years. You are a witness as they develop into unique beings with their own curious habits, personalities and talents. I believe that holding to that sacred duty should make you more of what you are. Being a parent isn't about making your child the center of your universe at the expense of all else. It's about bearing witness to their remarkable process of discovery, growth and self actualization. Of course, that means finding new depths within yourself, not giving up on high heels or the theater.


Catherine said...

Congratulations—I didn't know you were expecting! I'm so happy for you. :)

Having recently entered the realm of motherhood, and having met many moms, it aggravates me that we supposedly fall into the two categories that you outlined here. What's worse is the conflict that pop culture sets up—and eggs on—between the two "sides." Motherhood is tough on its own. We don't need to fight each other on top of it!

Rebekah said...

Congrats. You guys will make great parents and will love it. Give yourself time to adjust. Cheers.

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