This post has been writing itself in my head for about two months now. For some reason I just knew in my gut that when Nate turned six months old, I'd be feeling a huge pull to think about myself as a mother.
It has probably taken me this long to actually even think of myself AS a mother and not just some imposter who the crazy hospital let take home this little 8lb bundle back in May with nary a background check or home inspection. (Really, when you actually have a baby, it feels astounding how easily you are allowed to take on the care for such a fragile, helpless little being. It makes me wonder how humans continue to thrive. The whole ride home I was thinking, "Really? This was it? They really just let us pack up and leave with him just now?")
Before I had Nate, I knew I would try my best to parent as naturally as possible in the superficial land that is my home state of New Jersey. I would use a sling. I would breastfeed. I would make all my own baby food. I would avoid Gerber (product of Nestle) at all costs. I would treasure all these millions of tiny moments that everyone assured me would fly by.
And then I actually became a mother. And way fewer of the moments flew by than I anticipated. Sure, now, those first two months are a bit hazy, but at the time they felt never-ending. A friend of my sister's recently asked how I was and I said something like, "Fine, good - everything is just so much more fun after those first few months, you know." And she said in return, "Oh, I know. Those first three months are like hazing, aren't they?" And I thought, how perfect - yes. You do indeed get hazed into motherhood, even with the sweetest of babies.
Nate wanted nothing to do with the awesome sling I bought. He wanted to stand in it, even as an infant, and all I could envision was him slipping out the bottom and hitting the ground, so we gave up on the sling for a while (I am determined to try again soon).
I wanted to wait for baby food until Nate was 6 months old, but he started seeming hungry after finishing 8oz in his bottle (he kept sucking and sucking on the empty bottle and then would cry when we took it away - clearly hungry, right?) so we started food. Except we really weren't ready for this, were all in the middle of a terrible cold/ear infection family epidemic, and barely had money for groceries. So what did we have? The Gerber food that was given to us as part of a gift at the baby shower. I may try to not support Nestle whenever possible, but I'm not about to waste baby food so Nate's first baby food was Gerber. (At least it was organic, right?) Sigh.
And the breastfeeding. The breastfeeding that lasted less than a week and broke my heart, seemingly irreparably since it is still something I find myself crying about on occasion. And by on occasion I mean any time I think about it, which I basically try not to do so as to avoid said crying.
The other day a friend posted on Twitter that her teething son had bit her while nursing and so "the booby bar was closed." I read the hubby the tweet and he said, "Now aren't you glad you're not breastfeeding?" Not for a split second did I consider answering yes. I said, "Well, I'm glad I'm not being bitten on the boob, but no, I'm never glad that I'm not breastfeeding." And then I started to cry, as I do every time I think about this.
People often ask me how Nate is doing and will off-handedly ask, "Are you breastfeeding?" and I have to choke down the lump that instantly builds in my throat and smile and say, "Oh, no, that didn't work out for us. My milk didn't come in, so yeah, you know..." and then move along before, again, I start to tear up.
Why the crying? Because I still think I could have tried harder, dammit. I am still not convinced that had I given it another three or four days, I might have been able to help my milk come in. I'm still aggravated that I don't have anyone in my immediate life who breastfed who could have come over and helped me figure out if it was a supply issue or just a delay or who knows what else. Nate was less than a week old, crying pretty much all the time if he wasn't eating or asleep, and seemingly only satisfied if he was eating (or trying to eat since we figured he wasn't getting much anyway).
Now, at 6 months, I wonder what it would have been like if I had persevered and succeeded. Would we still be nursing? Would I have figured out pumping at work? Or would I have given up after returning to work? Would I be kicking myself over that instead? If still nursing, would I be absolutely loving it or would I be dying to quit? And what would Nate be like? Would he be bigger? Smaller? Would his sleep be different?
I'll never know any of this and it's the ONE thing that continues to eat away at me regularly. Nate is clearly fine - healthy and strong and happy - but I still just wish.
Being a working mother will get its own post at some point, I think. I'm still processing that aspect of my life and my feelings about it are constantly shifting. I've been a mother for six months, but a working one for less than three. At times it feels simple and at other times it feels incredibly complicated (which, I guess, makes it complicated by the fact that it changes?). And I feel like this post already has such a heavy air to it that I don't want to discuss another heavy topic here. Being a mother for me is inextricably linked with being a working mother, but I think the topic warrants some separate thoughts at another time.
What this post doesn't yet get to, though, is how much I absolutely love Nathaniel. The bonding took a while. I remember a day, maybe when Nate was around 6 - 8 weeks old, when my sister asked, "Don't you just love him like crazy, though? Can't you just not get enough of him? Don't you just want to squeeze him and squeeze him and never put him down?"
And I so clearly remember thinking, "Oh. That's what I'm supposed to be feeling?" Because I didn't. I loved Nate, but it felt like more of a responsibility. I was supposed to love him, obviously. I was required to care for him. And when he cried, it did tug at my heart. But I sorely needed a break and I was roughly halfway through my maternity leave with no break in sight. I was not feeling the crazy love. I was mainly just feeling the crazy. (Again, I think there needs to be a separate post reflecting on my maternity leave.)
But now? Now I would answer my sister's questions with a resounding, "YES! YES! To every question, YES." A coworker of my dad's asked me Halloween weekend, "Oh, how do you not just squeeze him all day?" and I said, "Well, I kind of do, really." I don't want to put him down and I do have this irresistible urge to just squeeze and kiss and tickle him ALL THE TIME. I totally get it now. I feel like maybe I was a little slow in getting it (maybe a little resistant somehow?) but I so get it now.
I still feel like an imposter sometimes and I still don't feel natural calling myself a mother or referring to "my son." It makes me feel self-conscious, like when I was a writing student and wrote poetry regularly but never wanted to refer to myself as "a poet" because I felt like I hadn't earned that title; my writing wasn't good enough for me to call myself that. So if I follow the analogy through, maybe I don't feel like my mothering is good enough yet for me to call myself a mother.
But that's the thing, the title isn't a choice once the state exists. I AM a mother, regardless of how I feel wearing that title. And I never have been a fan of titles. I always hated the titles "girlfriend/boyfriend" and even grew weary of "fiance" after a short while (that said, I love "husband/wife").
The love I feel for Nathaniel is the simplest, purest thing I have ever experienced in my life and I think what I dislike is all the weight that comes with the title. I just want to love him and nurture his growth and happiness and creativity.
And what I have to make sure I remember is that I can. I can just do that. I can just love him and nurture him. I can shrug off the weight of the title "mother" and all its implications and connotations, both personal and societal. Motherhood is what you make of it. If I want to care about what I feed him, I should - but I shouldn't beat myself up when I need to cut some corner to make sure he's fed.
I think one of the points of value I bring to being a mother at 35 is that I'm comfortable defining myself by now. I know who I am, I like who I am - even the parts I don't like, I like. What I need to do now is take that comfort and spread it to my mothering. I need to like myself as a mother and I need to become more comfortable with my choices. I'm definitely getting there and I have the benefit of not having too many people second guessing me at every turn, but I need to accept not only the decisions I'm making now, but the ones I already made and the mistakes I've made. I know they won't be the last.
I love to challenge myself and take on several challenges at once - working full-time plus part-time work, graduate school, family obligations, social obligations, personal projects - but nothing has challenged me as much as the decision to become a mother, from the time of the positive pregnancy test to today, right now, this minute, this minute, this minute.
I breathe in a way I hadn't before. I look at the sun and rain and trees and the night sky in ways I hadn't before. It's been like the opposite of peeling back the layers of an onion. I'm not getting at a me that was always inside, under other layers. It's more like I'm putting on more layers, adding to the parts of me I already knew and the parts I haven't uncovered yet.
I feel proud of making it this far and being in one piece. I feel proud of having a child who is clearly thriving and happy. I feel proud of also having a marriage that is happy and thriving and growing in this process.
And that's all I really want to ask for right now. I can keep it that simple if I want to because, for me, if I want to boil down the essence of what matters most to me, that's it. My son, myself, and my marriage are happy and healthy. Being a mother has made me appreciate even more the simplest, purest joys in life - and not just appreciate them, but treasure them.
This - this I treasure: