Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: Marriage

Portrait of a White, Suburban Ohio, College-Educated Woman on Election Day 2016

I wake up at 6:00 a.m.

I roll from my side to my back, feeling the weight of 29 weeks of pregnancy.

I put on some maternity leggings, several layers, and the ever-so-sexy pregnancy belt.

Carrying 27 pounds of extra weight, I walk and jog in the cool darkness, the road lit by the occasional lamp post. I watch my heart rate rise and fall.

I count the political signs.

I run on.

At 6:45, I return home and wake up my husband.

Our three-year-old daughter, still asleep in her bed.

I make her lunch and set out her vitamins.

I eat a bowl of oatmeal, topped with raspberries.

Take a breath.

Climb the stairs to coax the kid out of bed.

She is pissed.

Her voice is hoarse, so I know she’s getting sick.

Through screaming and tears and some negotiation, we get her dressed and vitamin-ed.

Then off to daycare.

In the car, she asks for music. I played her favorite, Grouplove’s Tongue Tied.

Then, she bursts into tears.

Yeah, she’s feeling pretty miserable, I think.

I set out her breakfast once we are in her preschool room. Today, she insists that she does not want milk on her cereal.

She gives me a hug. And a kiss.

Across from daycare, the church is a polling place. There is extra traffic. Turning left without a stop sign or stoplight is a nightmare.

Back at home, I make a second breakfast. Because pregnancy.

Eggs and English muffin. And coffee. Because second pregnancy.

I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition.

Shower. Dress for work. Make-up.

My husband is running behind.

So we decide to vote together.

We have a nice conversation in line for 30 minutes. We talk about last night’s dinner with friends. Our daughter. Our church. His work’s potluck.

Then, we vote.

Because we are Americans.

Because we are parents.

Because we are feminists.

Because time moves forward. Not backward.

We hold hands on the way out. Give each other a quick kiss and hug.

We go to work.

voting

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

how-to-break-up-with-someone-0-1024x512

Photo credit: http://www.ottmag.com

Especially when you’re breaking up with a long-standing, beautiful relationship with…

A two-hour nap.

Oh… The peace. The quiet.

The freedom.

Two hours is a whole movie.

It’s two episodes of Game of Thrones.

And with just one child at home, it’s occasionally a nice time to… Yeah. You know.

One some glorious days, the two-hour nap would turn into a three-hour nap.

So luxurious.

But as I mentioned in a previous post, our three-year-old daughter is dropping her midday nap. Her body is shifting to require only ten hours of sleep per day instead of her usual twelve hours.

Unfortunately, daycare isn’t on board. According to State of Ohio regulations, she still needs to spend 1 hour and 45 minutes on a cot during an 8-hour stay at daycare. Now, she doesn’t have to sleep. She could stay awake and look at books.

But she doesn’t. She falls asleep every time.

Her daycare teacher exclaims, “She’s a great sleeper!”

Well, for you, she is.

For us, that lovely midday nap now means that she’s still rockin’ at 9:45 p.m. 10:00. 10:20. I, on the other, am officially done with the day at 9:15. I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted by this time and it’s even harder now because I’m pregnant.

Which is why I’m more than thrilled that my husband is willing to keep vigil after I’ve gone to bed. Just to make sure that she doesn’t escape her room while she is trying to go to sleep.

***

As I saw Labor Day Weekend approaching, my first thought wasn’t, Ahhh… A relaxing weekend.

My first thought was, Oh my God, that’s three full days without daycare or naps. What are we going to do to get out of the house so I don’t go nuts?

I did research. I amassed a list of things we could do. The county fair. The Renaissance Festival. The Cincinnati Museum Center. Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. Yes. We have options. I can get through this, I thought.

I ran the plans by my husband. His response was:

“I need to get work done outside.”

“What work?” I asked.

“That retaining wall needs to be redone. It’s not level, so it’s causing the A/C unit to shake. That needs to get done this weekend.”

My first thought was, Can’t you do that another weekend? Any other weekend? Please-for-the-love-of-God?

We are not so advanced in potty training and managing temper tantrums that I’m willing to go it alone to any of these places. I need a partner.

I imagine the worst. A poop accident that requires four hands to clean up.

Or an all-out tempter tantrum that requires me to carry her like a bundle of firewood back to the car. And I cannot manage that now that she’s 40 pounds and I’m 5 months pregnant.

But, the retaining wall.

We settle on doing something together on Labor Day, giving him two solid weekend days to re-set the retaining wall.

***

By 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, I walked out of the house, straight to the backyard and announced:

“I need to get away from her. I’m going to the store for an hour.”

I cried all the way to the grocery store, chiding myself the whole time about making such a big deal out of nothing.

So what happened?

She’s three. That’s what happened.

Sometimes, she’s sweet as pie. Other times, she’s sass-a-frass. And when you’re the only person bearing the brunt, it just. Wears. You. Down.

She’s not that bad. She’s a normal three-year-old. Yeah, she acts defiant. Frequently. But that’s normal. 

There’s nothing to cry about. Why are you crying? If you can’t handle this, you really shouldn’t be having another kid. 

What are you doing with your life? 

What is wrong with you?

***

I did a slow grocery shop. I took my time. I reminded myself that, hey, I’m 5 months pregnant and my emotions are hard to manage when I’m tired and I have no break.

I forgave myself.

Then, I came home, dropped a medium Wendy’s French fry in my husband’s lap as a thank you for helping out, sat down on the freshly re-set retaining wall, and had a good cry.

He put his arm around me and let me talk.

Then, he sent me inside and said, “Take some time for yourself and come back when you feel better.”

So I did.

I took another hour to take a long bath and shave my legs (finally). When I came downstairs, I was ready to help with dinner.

We ate together and laughed a little.

At 7:00, I was ready to take over again. I sent him back outside to finish the wall. I gave our daughter a bath, read to her, tucked her in, cleaned the dishes, finished the laundry, and vacuumed.

And fell asleep around 9:30.

I heard my husband walk into the bedroom later on. I checked the clock.

10:20.

But the wall was finished.

***

Parents of older kids sometimes tell us that, “Things get easier.”

But then they’re quick to add, “Well, some things get easier. Other things get harder.”

They are right.

In exchange for letting go of naps and diapers, we’re entering a new world of possibilities of ways that we can spend our time with our kids. Beyond the kitchen, the dining room, and the playroom.

We go out. We show her new things. She is delighted and her delight is palpable. We can actually enjoy experiences together.

But right now, I feel caught in the middle. She has moved beyond naps, but she hasn’t risen to the level of self-sufficiency that makes me feel comfortable enough to wrangle her by myself. Maybe it’s my personality. Maybe it’s the pregnancy. Maybe both.

Yes, I know. It’s all a phase. One big, giant phase.

But this next phase… It’s turning out to be a lot harder to adjust to than I thought.

Through Miscarriage

December 3, 2005

And so today, I give myself to you, to share our lifetimes together, be it the best times or the worst.  And if I ever want out, I promise to you to remember today.  To remember you, to remember the first time that I ever saw your face, to remember every tear we shed in joy to cover every tear we’ll someday shed in pain.  I promise to never give up on you, on us, or our life together.

***

When you love someone who is hurting, your first thought is to find a way to make their pain go away. But as you live with someone who is hurting, you begin to understand that covering the pain doesn’t help them. And erasing it is impossible.

The only way out of pain is to go through it.

All you can do is listen.

Wait.

And be ready with open hands when they finally reach out.

***

December 31, 2015

We step off the elevators and round the corner.

Maternity Unit, the sign reads.

A hospital employee scans her ID and the doors open for us.

“This way,” she passes another sign. Maternity Triage.

I think, Here? This is where we’re going?

While my nurse prepares a space for me, I sit on a bed across from a curtained area where a woman breathes and moans. It sounds like she is nearly in active labor. When she is silent, I feel jealousy. When she moans, I feel compassion.

“Why are we here?” my husband asks. “Just to kick you in the teeth while you’re down?”

***

I knew what kind of guy I was falling in love with when we ended one of our first dates by sitting on the monkey bars of his old elementary school.

We were 21 years old, enjoying that hazy week of post-Christmas and pre-New Year freedom. Life was full of movies and eating out and driving nowhere in particular while listening to Radiohead.

We climbed to the top of the bars, our breath coming out in white puffs. The night sky was clear and studded with stars. I was freezing. Absolutely freezing.

And I didn’t care.

We held hands.

Then he said, “I forgot the specific heat of steel was so low.”

I laughed. And laughed.

He was the one. I already knew.

***

 “We just need to get your IV started, draw some blood, and do some paperwork,” my nurse says as she taps away on the computer’s keyboard. She has mercifully moved us to the back of triage, away from the laboring women. “And then you’ll be all ready.”

I lift my hand to my lips and close my eyes. Start an IV… Here we go.

“Are you okay?” she asks in a tone that really means, Are you feeling a lot of emotions right now?

But I’m not thinking about the fact that my baby has died. Not right now. Instead, I’m wondering how hard it’s going to be for her to find a vein.

“So my veins are really small and they roll…” I warn her.

“Let me just take a look.”

She places the tourniquet high on my left arm, rubbing, prodding, tapping. She examines my forearm, somewhere comfortable. Then to the right arm. Repeat.

“Okay, I see what you mean,” she says.

Back to the left forearm.

The cool alcohol swab. The stick. The immediate sting, the burn. I squirm. I yell. The needle pulls away.

I know she hasn’t found a vein.

As I start sobbing, I reach out for Doug and bury my head in his neck. All of my emotions rush forward. All of my thoughts from the past two weeks explode in my consciousness and I let them run wild.

Our baby has died.

Two and a half weeks ago.

I want to let it go.

I don’t want to be its tomb anymore.

Isn’t it enough that I’m ready to let it go?

I don’t want to hurt anymore.

My nurse rubs my knee through the blanket covering my legs. With my eyes squeezed shut, I can hear her sniffing. That is how I know that she is crying too.

***

Shortly after we started dating, Doug saw his mother for the last time.

Lost to her delusional world of paranoia and conspiracy, she cut everything and everyone loose. Parents. Siblings. Husband. Children. Grandchildren. As she slithered away from everyone who loved her, she curled into herself as a last means of self-protection.

In a last ditch effort, Doug tried to talk to her one last time. That was thirteen years ago.

When it ended badly, I held him and his tears darkened my sleeves. I cried with him as he mourned the loss of his living mother.

It was just one of the first emotional storms that we weathered together.

***

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. But after I came to grips with the words no cardiac activity, I was ready to let go.

The nausea left. The fatigue lifted. My metabolism picked up.

But no blood.

No spotting.

My body held on. It refused to let go.

So I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

How do you find your way into a body that doesn’t want to open up?

***

My nurse re-examines my right arm starting at the forearm. She rubs and prods my arm, moving down until she is gripping my fingers. She rolls my fingers this way and that, my knuckles moving in waves. The cold swab, the sting of the needle again.

So much hotter and sharper.

I yell. I cry.

She pulls the needle out. “I’m so sorry, hon… I’m going to ask someone else to take a look.”

My teeth start chattering. I start shaking. Doug continues to hold me as I heave.

***

I remember the True Love Waits campaign of my teenage years. Our church’s youth group strongly supported sexual abstinence before marriage.

Sex is the most special gift you can give your partner, a speaker crooned on one of the free promotional VHS videos that our youth group received, along with a catalog to purchase TLW rings and attire. Don’t you want to give your partner the best?, the speaker asked.

As if sex with your spouse is always sacred.

As if sex with your spouse is never selfish or disconnected.

Bullshit, I say.

Sometimes, sex is Oh my God, I need you right now. Sometimes, sex is I love you so much. Sometimes, sex is well, it’s been a while so… Sometimes, it’s we better do it tonight if we want to conceive in this cycle. Sometimes, it’s we’re not going to be able to do it again for the next six days so…

So, bullshit, I say.

Sex isn’t the most intimate gift you can give your partner.

The most intimate gift you can give your partner is your vulnerability. Taking the risk to show the face that you hide from everyone else.

That’s intimacy.

Sex in marriage is a given.

But vulnerability in marriage is not.

***

A second nurse comes to my bed. She rubs her hands together as she circles me, searching for opportunity. She goes for the crook of my left arm.

Burning, pain, more tears.

Then she goes for the soft underbelly of my left wrist. Hot, searing pain sends me shouting and swearing. My legs and feet brace against each other, rubbing up and down, trying to feel anything besides the searing pain in my wrist until she finally pulls the needle free.

“Is it always this difficult to find a vein?” the second nurse asks sensitively.

I shake my head. “It’s because I’m so dehydrated. I always drink a lot of water before a blood draw, but I had to fast for the anesthesia.”

The nurses talk quietly of calling in anesthesiology.

I wonder if we can just leave. Just pick up our things, get the Cytotec on the way home, and spend the night cramping and making bloody trips to the toilet. Even if my body doesn’t want to do that, at least it would be familiar with the process. At least maybe it would let that happen.

I continue to cry into my husband’s shoulder, where a dark circle of tears grows.

***

The last time I cried this much was when my father passed away.

On the night before the funeral, I tried to explain to Doug how I was feeling.

It’s like our family has been holding onto this rope for the past ten years and life is spinning us around. Everyone’s letting go, and flying out in different directions. And soon, no one will be holding on anymore. There will be nothing left of this thing that held us together for so long. And it makes me wonder what family really is when you all let go of the rope.

***

The anesthesiology nurse brings in warm compresses. My first nurse brings in more blankets. Your hands are so icy. Maybe the warmth will help.

More prodding, more rubbing, more tapping, more discussion.

Here? This one looks promising. Oh, what about this one? Wait… is that a tendon? Are you kidding me?

Through my tears, I start laughing. A delirious, dark laugh. I open my eyes to see both of the nurses eyeing my husband’s hands.

“He’s got some nice veins,” I say. “That’s why I married him.”

They chuckle with me.

“Too bad we can’t do him,” one of them says.

The fifth stick—in my right hand.

The sixth stick—underneath my left arm.

My arms are throbbing. My physical pain peaks. My emotional pain flatlines.

Then miracle of miracles—the seventh stick.

The vein that finally accepts the IV, just above my right wrist.

Ecstatic to have finally accessed a vein, the anesthesiology nurse immediately threads it, forgetting to draw the blood.

“Does that mean you’ll have to stick her again?” my husband asks.

My first nurse nods.

He uses his fingers to wipe the sides of my face.

“Let’s give her a break,” my nurse whispers.

***

The cool IV fluid snakes its way through my veins. The image starts a train of thought.

I think about the anthropology unit that my students were studying just before we left for Christmas break. We learned that in the Mayan world, snakes were symbols of transcendence, creatures that could cross easily between two worlds: the world of the living and the world of the dead.

I wonder how I can become like them.

I wonder why it has been so difficult for me to cross back into the land of the living.

At night, my mind replays and replays the silent, motionless figure, floating on the ultrasound screen. Those definitive words, No cardiac activity.

During the day, I feel the weight of simply living while carrying the dead with me. Everywhere I go.

I think about letting go. The prayers, the wishes, the ways that I have resumed my old life. Wine, coffee, sushi, deli meat.

Hoping the mental clarity would speed things along.

Hoping for blood.

***

I open my eyes for the first time in thirty minutes. My blanketed legs are covered in empty needle packages, gauze, and tape. My arms are bandaged here and there. My first nurse pulls a new needle from its package and lets it fall among the rest of the debris on my legs.

I don’t even care anymore. I just want this to be over. I give up.

I go slack in Doug’s arms.

But with the eight stick in the right hand, I tense and cry out, “Mother fuck!”

“Look, she can’t do this anymore,” Doug says. “I’m shocked she hasn’t passed out yet.”

Back to my left hand, the ninth stick. It slides in, no sting.

“Okay…” I mutter. I lean back against Doug’s shoulder. “Okay… This isn’t awful. I don’t like this one, but I can do this one.”

A silence in the room.

“It’s not coming out fast, is it?” I ask.

“No, but it’s fine. Just relax,” Doug says.

“Deep breaths, Sharon. Relax,” my nurse says.

A whole minute passes.

“Try making a fist if you can,” she encourages me.

I try, but closing my hand knocks my fingers against the needle. I imagine not having hands or arms. I imagine sliding out of this moment and slipping into the future.

Another minute passes.

I loosen my grip and focus on being empty.

Because that is what this is.

A complete emptying.

Of emotions.

Of plans.

Of life.

Of death.

Letting it all go.

And hoping that there is something left at the end of it.

***

To move like a snake, you need to give up your arms, your ability to hold on to anything. That’s how snakes flow seamlessly from one world into the next. They don’t cling to anything.

At the same time, nothing can hold on to them. Snakes need to dodge and evade. They need to slip through fingers. They don’t linger in memory or balk at the future. They exist only in the present. They can move easily between both worlds because they don’t love. Nor can they be loved.

But I have loved. Even if my arms could not hold, I have loved.

This is the pain of miscarriage–to love without reward. There is no newborn cry. No tender face or fingers or toes. Perhaps not even the knowledge of knowing the gender of your child. The pain of miscarriage is to love without the possibility of a future. There is nothing but love and pain.

My journey back to the land of the living will not be seamless. I will not slide smoothly past all of these memories, emotions, doubts, fears, and uncertainties.

Because I have loved.

The challenge, then, is to learn how to move through the pain even though I still love.

***

“So this is the consent form to have the procedure of dilation and curettage,” my nurse holds a paper on a clipboard. I carefully lift my right IVed hand to sign it.

Dilation. From Latin, dilatare. “The process of becoming larger or wider.”

Curettage. “A surgical scraping or cleaning by a curette.”

Curette. From French, curer and from Latin, curare. “To cure.”

To enlarge and cure.

***

Staring at the overhead lights in the OR, my anesthesiology nurse clicks a vial of medication into my IV.

“You’re going to start to feel light now.” She rubs my forehead, my hair. Her eyes are bright, but sad. It makes me think she has been through this, too.  “You’ve been through a lot, so just rest now. We’ll take good care of you.”

A final tear slips out of my right eye. She wipes it away.

What I think is, This isn’t working. I wonder when this stuff will finally kick in.

***

Loving is easy. Even natural.

It’s living with love that is hard.

The only way to avoid heartbreak is to choose not to love.

But if you choose to love, grief will take you down into the land of the dead. As you struggle with the grief, you will bleed. If you panic, your struggle will tear away pieces of you. If you panic too much, you will rip yourself to shreds, like an animal caught on barbed wire.

But if you can lift your head when the blood comes, you will see that the bleeding comes from hooks, buried deep in your flesh. Hooks to everyone who loves you. Hooks to your spouse. To your children. To your family. To your friends.

If you can lift your head while you are still bleeding, you can see who is still holding on to you. Then, you can reach up and take the hand that is reaching out for you.

You can move together.

You can climb out.

You will be scarred. You will be stretched. You will be larger, wider, and more flexible.

But the next time you’re caught in grief, you’ll remember to stop and see who is holding on to you.

And who you need to let go.

***

“Sweets?”

I know that voice.

“Hey, baby girl.”

His warm hand on my face.

“Doug?”

“Hey, Sweets. It’s all over. You did great.”

What I remember is

… to remember every tear we shed in joy to cover every tear we’ll someday shed in pain.

What I think is

We can get through this. I promised him I wouldn’t give up.

What I say is, “My wedding vows.”

“What? What Sweets?”

“My wedding vows,” I say louder. My eyes flip open. Light and shapes.

“What about them?” he leans closer.

“I meant them.”

He rubs my hand. “Sweets…”

“I meant them. I want you to know that.”

Design by Franchesca Cox, 2010

Design by Franchesca Cox, 2010

 

 

When I Became Real to my Husband

A lot of people quote the Bible for the readings at their wedding. Or maybe a famous poet. I chose “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

Velveteen_Rabbit

Original cover, 1922

Not kidding.

If you’re not familiar with the story, like in many children’s book, the toys in the nursery talk to each other. Here, the Horse talks to the Velveteen Rabbit about what it means when the Boy calls one of his toys “Real.”

“Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you… It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or need to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” (emphasis added)

I would like to say that I chose this reading for our wedding vows because it was how we felt about each other on that day.

But it wasn’t.

It couldn’t be.

Yet.

It was my hope for the future of our marriage–that as we grew closer together, we would start to see each other as Real. That even if I fell apart in every conceivable way, even if I were shattered by life, and had nothing left to offer him–not a rockin’ body or clever wit or a pleasant attitude–that he would still be able to see the Beauty of my spirit. That he could look through the prism of my fractured self and see my colors escaping the other side.

Young us, 2005

Young us, 2005

I couldn’t think of the words to express this nagging fear that I held close to my heart as I entered into marriage. I didn’t know how to explain it. I mean, I was convinced  that he knew everything. I thought that he knew all my secrets. All of my failures and flaws. I was pretty sure there was nothing left to tell him.

But, oh. There was. I just hadn’t discovered it yet.

So let me take to you that night when I became Real to my husband.

It was four days after my daughter was born, a Monday night. I had just finished using the double-breast pump for the first time ever in life. For how long? 50 minutes. (And if you don’t know if that’s a long time, let me tell you–Yeah, it’s a long time.)

And all that agonizing pulling and pumping and pain yielded how much milk?

Half of an ounce. (And yeah, that’s pretty horrible.)

My husband came over to me and hugged me. He helped me stand and I peed all over myself. Because birth. And, oh yeah, my mother and my sister were also there watching this whole messy moment unfold.

So, yeah, talk about destroyed.

My husband helped push me up the stairs so I could have a moment to cry in the bathroom. Once I finally was in the bathroom, I realized that somehow, I was still peeing, so urine puddled around my feet. I turned to see my face in the mirror and I saw this misshapen creature, too-small boobs, too-big belly, dark-ringed eyes, unshaved legs. I was horrific.

I just collapsed on the toilet, buried my hot, puffy face in my hands, and sobbed. And sobbed. And sobbed. When I opened my eyes, what did I see? Someone else’s body. Huge, bloated legs, filled with eleven pounds of fluid. Hives on the backs of my hands. Bruises on my left arm from the IV during labor.

I was so ugly. I was so broken. So utterly and completely humiliated.

And absolutely convinced that this was the day that he would stop loving me. Because how could you love someone so hideous and broken?

And this truly broke my heart–that I thought this was the end of us. That because of my failure to stay attractive and  “beautiful” or because of my inability to stay strong, he would see that there was really no reason to love me.

Because why love someone who has nothing to offer you? 

I blubbered and blubbered to him. I confessed and confessed shit that I didn’t even realize I was keeping in.

And what did he do?

He gave me the biggest hug of my life.

He put my sloppy, snotty, mess of a face into his hands and said, “I love you soooooooo much.”

And in that moment, I felt an unparalleled grace for the first time in my life. A moment of heaven on earth. Even though I had been reduced to this version of self that was so not who he had fallen in love with–that he could still look at me and say, “I love you.”

I had underestimated him throughout all those years. I never fully believed that if he saw who I really could be that he would still want to spend his life with me. And in that moment, I realized that I finally truly Loved him. Loved-loved. Not, “I love you because you love me so much” love–which is how I had been framing it for years. But rather “I see who you are. All of you. And I love that”–that kind of love.

And I cried even more because I was so sorry that, for so many years, I hadn’t been looking at what really mattered.

What I felt next was like a deep spiritual sigh, settling on the room. No words to describe it, so I won’t try. Just know that I felt that I was having an epiphany, that everything had just awakened and come into view. And then a wave of emotion that felt like these words:

Finally.

You understand.

Someone doesn’t love you because you have something to offer.

That’s not love.

Love is when someone loves you even though you have nothing to offer.

So just accept it. Don’t start explaining why you don’t deserve this.

Just say yes.

Before that moment, I had still been building the structure of our relationship on the assumption that he loved me for my looks or my intelligence or my congeniality, or whatever else. I probably said “he loves who I am,” but did I really know that?

How could I know that unless he saw a version of me that was completely opposite of how I had presented myself to him for all of these years?

I couldn’t know. Not for sure.

I could only know for sure if he witnessed me in that rawest state of my being. Only if all the flattering mirrors were pulled away and he could see me from all angles and still say, “I love you.”

But, God, this is difficult to achieve. You can’t manufacture experiences that will lead to this level of openness, vulnerability, and ultimately, trust. It happens organically, just as the Horse said, It doesn’t happen all at once. You become.

I think that if you want to reach this stage in a relationship with someone, you need to be able to recognize the moments when you feel like you are trying to keep them from seeing who you really are–and then have the courage to let them see it. All of it. The whole shitty mess.

I know what you’re thinking–But what if they don’t like what they see? What if they leave?

It’s a risk for sure. There are no guarantees of what will happen. But how would you rather live? With fear that someday your partner will see a version of you that drives them away? Or with the knowledge that your partner has already seen those other sides–and accepts them anyway?

So what about you?

Have you ever been Real to someone? 

Because let me tell you, once you are Real to someone, so much unspoken–even unacknowledged–fear and anxiety melts away. And you are finally able to see the other person as just as Real–even when you thought you had been seeing them all this time.

It goes without saying, perhaps, that not all relationships reach this level of Realness. It’s not even a given for marriage. Some couples are not Real to each other–and yet they still see their children as Real.

Why is this?

Parenthood–or care-taking in general–opens our eyes to a deeper truth about love that helps us understand why our romantic relationships can be so much less authentic than the relationships that we have with our kids.

While it was (and still is) important to me that my husband love me unconditionally, it is not nearly as important to me that my child loves me unconditionally. I talk about this a bit in my book, but I’ll briefly state here–that I don’t think I immediately “loved” my daughter as soon as she was born. Instead, I felt that I grew to love her. And that because my relationship with her started as caregiver, the love that I have for her isn’t dependent on whether or not she could show love to me.

Don’t get me wrong–it stings if she says she doesn’t want to hug me. Ouch.

But do I break into a cycle of thoughts about, “Oh no! My daughter thinks I’m awful! I’m such a terrible mother!”

Nope. Not at all.

Because my love for her isn’t reliant on how she sees me. I love her even if she doesn’t hug me or tell me I’m amazing. I love her even if she has nothing to offer me.

And it all started in those first weeks of life.

When I nursed until I broke, when I pulled through hours and hours of sleep deprivation to keep going, as I limped about in persistent pain while recovering from childbirth–I did all of this without a thank you from her, or even an intentional smile.

My relationship with her didn’t start with the assumption that I would wait to see what she had to offer me before I chose to care about her. And that changed the whole dynamic of how I experienced love for her. Instead, I loved as many parents love–all-in and with no guarantee that it will be returned.

But, oh, the tears that come when it is returned. I don’t see it as a given. I see it as a gift. And that is how I stay out of that toxic cycle of thoughts of worrying that my child doesn’t love me.

Because I Love her. Love-Love.

To me, she is already Real. Every part of her. She can never become Unreal.

And maybe someday, she’ll see me as Real, too.

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“You complete me?”: The problem when birth becomes a romance

In a different post, I wrote about how love isn’t what mothers feel in those first days of motherhood. I asserted that what I felt when I first saw my daughter was not love—it was euphoria. And that euphoria faded.

When we say things like, “I loved my baby from the first moment that I laid eyes on him,” we drop ourselves into the familiar roles of a Westernized romantic narrative, where the mother is delivered, redeemed, and fulfilled by the child.

1) It’s love at first sight.

2) You are soulmates, meant to be mother and child.

3) The child completes the mother (but does the mother complete the child?)

This is how Westerners tell traditional love stories. Romantic love is the pinnacle of life, a kind of self-actualization. Snow White comes to life when her prince kisses her. Kate Winslet is saved from a bad marriage by Leonardo. Julia Roberts is delivered from her life of prostitution when Richard Gere parades in his limousine with flowers to win her back. (Or how about when he delivers Debra Winger from a lifetime of factory work?)

Through romantic love, a woman is resuscitated, rescued, and whisked away into a life free from financial obligations.

<Cringe.>

Some romances have moved on and allowed the female protagonists to have high-powered careers and what appear to be fulfilling lives. Until the plot reveals that something is missing.

Oh yes. A man.

Children are often viewed through the same lens. Great marriage. Great house. Great career. Still—something missing.

A child.

courtesy ww.hdwallpapersfit.com

courtesy ww.hdwallpapersfit.com

Instead of viewing children as additions to life, they are sometimes seen as the pieces that fill the gaps. Children become solutions, even comfort.

But those who have been married and who have children can look back on these narratives and find them laughable.

Marriage? The solution to all my problems? Ha!

Children? Complete me? Ha!

We can laugh because we know what happens after the couple marries or the baby is born. We know how the plot continues to march on—in clunky, messy steps. With unexpected, unrewarding, and unfinished twists. There are no more clean arcs to the action. It’s a sticky, messy web of conflict that sometimes has no good solution. Or at least no solution from which everyone benefits.

It is far less glamorous.

It is the stuff of heavy, ponderous dramas that leave you sapped of energy. And no wonder—it’s reality. Just the thing we are trying to escape by watching a movie. Love still exists in marriage and parenthood, but it is all exposition. It’s no longer the conflict, the thing that everyone is watching to see what will happen next. It’s the comfy sofa in every scene.

But through popular media, we unconsciously develop expectations about marriage and parenthood—even if they are unreasonable and impossible to sustain.

 

Sometimes, romantic love spurs us to believe in the existence of God or the inherent goodness of people. There is a God! I knew it! It’s destiny! We were meant to be.

This is dangerous, too. Because what happens to that belief in God when the relationship ends?

If belief comes from your heart, what happens to that belief when your heart is broken?

What happens when your destiny turns into… a mistake?

God no longer exists. People are no longer good at heart. You are no longer a person worth loving. And you will never find another person who will love you so deeply.

 

With so much resting on the shoulders of “love,” it’s no wonder so many of us get divorced. Such heights don’t exist without the valleys, and it’s only a matter of time before we find them in our relationships.

Like I said, this line of thinking is dangerous—for how we view marriage and for how we view our children.

If our children are responsible for our life’s meaning, what happens if tragedy befalls them? What if—God forbid—our children die?  Does our life’s meaning end?

Having a child isn’t meant to follow this same narrative of love. It’s unrealistic to expect a child to “complete” your life. “Complete” makes me think that you were missing something before they came into your life, when—let’s be honest—before you had a child, you may have felt like things were going just fine. It may have felt like everything was in its right place. It’s only after the child is born that you have this thought of “What have I been doing my whole life?”

When we try to rewrite our stories with our children as the saviors and redeemers of our lives, we raise them to such a height that they are bound to disappoint us. We put ourselves in the center of the universe, and we imagine how the child will grow from our amazing light and energy.

So perhaps it’s healthier to put the child at the center of the universe, where we are replenished by the warmth of our child’s love?

Hardly.

In both of those models, someone’s needs are forgotten. Either the child doesn’t reflect the efforts we’ve invested or we expect our children to be more emotionally rewarding than they really are.

Instead, it makes more sense to acknowledge that you are both traveling, following different orbits, perhaps even warmed by different suns. Sometimes, your paths intersect, you sing in harmony, you see a bit of yourself in your child. Sometimes, your paths are distant. Their actions make no sense to you. You wonder how you can love someone who can hurt you so much.

But in this model, when your child strays, you don’t wonder what you should have done to “complete” them. Nor do you bemoan their distant, remote paths as a reflection of bad decisions as a parent.

Yes, we love our children. But let’s also be mindful about what that love means–and what it doesn’t mean.

 

 

 

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