Growing up, several of my friends wanted babies when we were still babies. They wanted to play dolls or they were desperate for their parents to have another child so that they could have a baby to play with. I didn’t understand that: babies were cute but mostly boring and also attention-stealers. I liked Barbie because I could put her in her hot pink Corvette and she could go wherever the hell she wanted, free from commitments and bottles and the weight of having a family.
This general approach to life sustained me until I got married in my early 30s and my wife was desperate to have babies and I realized that I didn’t really want to have a baby at that moment, or next year, or maybe ever? And it occurred to me that I always vaguely assumed I would have a baby, but had no real plan to make it happen. I would be OK if I sort of stumbled into a baby, much like I would be OK if someone handed me a pony. But I didn’t want to actually do anything or make any changes to acquire it.
After a million hours of couples therapy (it was more like 10), and thousands of arguments with my wife (it was more like a million), I came to a few conclusions about why I wasn’t interested in having children: 1. I don’t know how to take care of myself, so how could I take care of someone else? 2. My childhood sucked and I have carried significant pain from it throughout my life – what if I did the same thing to my child? and 3. I have had serious periods of depression and I am afraid of what this will mean for our family if we have children.
Our decision-making process to having a child was difficult and trying and ultimately private, but those three fears remained fresh on my mind until the moment our son was born. And I didn’t take one look at him and fall in love forever and know in that instant that everything would be OK. But I did feel moved by him when I met him, and felt a new tenderness, and a sense that I would know what to do.
Like any other major change in my life, I assumed that I would be totally different after becoming a mother. I thought that suddenly I would talk about my kid ad nauseam – and I don’t mean the Latin meaning, I mean like literally I would make people nauseous, as so many people have made me when they obsess over the children. I thought I would stop swearing and became anxious and nervous all the time. I thought I would lose my sense of humor. I am literally always scared of losing my sense of humor, now that we’re talking about it.
But mostly, I was afraid of the sacrifices required in motherhood. I was afraid of being relegated to my house and home after avoiding going home to my house for years. I was afraid of losing myself, when I felt like I was just starting to find out who I was after giving up drinking.
Some of those fears have been unfounded. Some have been realized.
Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I love my son. I don’t want to wax on about what he does to my heart or soul – there are 1300000000 motherhood blogs you can reference for that general sense – and I don’t want to tell you about his outstanding qualities because he is barely one years old and the left side of his brain isn’t even working properly yet. But, I love him and I like him. I think he’s a cool baby. If I met him at a party, I would later be like “that baby was cool.” I don’t always think that. Sometimes I meet people’s babies or toddlers and think “yikes.”
I don’t enjoy motherhood. I don’t love the obvious stuff, like changing diapers while my baby screams bloody murder for some unspecified reason. I don’t love sitting there while he eats and not being able to leave because we are all supposed to be invested in his eating. Can’t I read a book in a different room while he eats? He takes forever. I don’t love the constant need for supervision – I genuinely do not have the attention span for it. He will be running around and I am the one who will wander off for awhile and then meander my way back to him, thinking “what did I come in this room for?” and then remember, oh right, to make sure the baby isn’t dead. Maybe you are laughing. My face is serious.
Being a mother forces you to make sacrifices in every area of your life, and makes you forfeit the experience of being completely immersed in something, in just one thing. If you are a working mother, it makes you feel like you are sucking at each aspect of your life, at revolving times. It shows you your limits, and then reminds you that your wife/ best friends/ clients/baby don’t care about those limits. It demands patience when you are completely out.
And then, when depression is rolling into town, it’s this whole other thing. And I found that depression showed up a lot more this first year of my son’s life, because many of my coping skills had to roll out for awhile. There’s this girl power-y song that I listen to while running that has lyrics along the lines of “my name is NO, my sign is NO, my number is NO” and it makes me wish I were single for half of a second just to say that to guys in a bar. And it also captures what it was like this past year while adjusting to having a person to take care of: working out is NO, sleeping in is NO, cooking meals is NO.
It got easier as he got older, I will admit that. But I didn’t suddenly learn stronger and better ways to manage my depression and I definitely didn’t learn ways to manage my time (I also have ADHD) or prioritize tasks. I did hit a ton of walls and I did sink to new levels of depression as my feelings of being a failure intensified. I did think about leaving my career and working in a cute store down the street. I did become a Virginia Woolf book come to life, staring vacantly at the wall while my son played around me when I was at my most depressed but couldn’t call in dead to motherhood.
And I think the thing with being a mother is, if and when I said this to people, inevitably they would say, “but you are raising a HUMAN BEING. you are bringing new LIFE into the world. You have a BABY.” But I never presumed being a mother would fill me with joy, and it doesn’t. I love my kid, and I like my kid. I love singing with him and I love comforting him and I like his little squeals of joy when we are chasing each other. I know we are connected in a deep and powerful way that transcends words. But being a mother doesn’t make up for all of the other things I want to experience in my life – service to others, showing up, affecting change, working for justice, having peace of mind. Being a mother doesn’t trump those things, and it doesn’t fill me up when the other things in my life are falling apart.
This year has brought me to new depths of despair and fear, but it’s also brought me to to a desperation that has resulted in a complete and total vulnerability in which I have put it all out there: this blog, telling my supervisor I am suicidal periodically and can’t function in my job in the way that I previously could (I work in the mental health field – I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this across industries and professions), asking for help in moments when it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to before. It brought me to spiritual experiences that I will never be able to put into words and it brought me to taking an entire month off of work via a medical leave because I must take some space to figure out what my life means now that I am a mother, and a mother with major depression. It has forced my to look at my childhood, a time in my life I devoted years to forgetting. It has shaken me up and down and asked me to look at what’s left.
And I feel optimistic. I feel lucky. I feel more supported today than I ever have in my whole life. And I feel that I love my son even though he screamed for 45 minutes on a walk through our neighborhood today. And I feel that he and I will be forever connected, and I have no doubt that he was meant to be our son, and that we have so much to learn from him.
But I don’t feel this sense of importance or peace or belonging because I am now a mother. I do feel like I have to get out of bed tomorrow, because Lord knows he will be up at 5AM, rearing to go. Sometimes that feels like a huge pain in the ass. Sometimes it fills me with dread. Sometimes I wonder if it is sustaining me. I am definitely challenged and I am certainly a different person because of him and because of being a mother. But make no mistake: I don’t enjoy the tasks of motherhood. It sucks. And I would 100% prefer Barbie in her hot pink Corvette, and I would really like to go on a ride with her, to the beach, or the mall, or any place kid-free, any day (especially since they castrated all the Kens!).
But the chance to do things right by him is a gift. And that is the only mom-like thing I have to offer today.