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Are You My Mother?

PUBLISHED April 16, 2024

I suppose it’s not unusual that I would struggle to find the words; or, more natural yet, to struggle to find the time. Ah, but in reality it’s more so this: a struggle to find the energy.

If breastfeeding burns some 500-700 additional calories than trying to write about pregnancy, labor, and new motherhood must subsume near 1,000.

I’m tired. But I’ve also got a glass or two of rosé in me, bringing me round to this daunting white space so as to litter it with little black letters, all in an effort to do the thing I’ve told myself is key to who I am – to write. For no time is wasted so long as it can be double-processed into fodder for writing.

I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes in these past five months. I’ve been such a strange multitude of me’s. The best metaphor I can muster is that life has been like a walk through a funhouse mirror; always you, just…stretched in some places, skinny in others, and at unpredictable intervals.

In one, I felt deliriously sexual. The six-week sex ban post-labor stretched on and on like an endless car ride. This is perhaps not the usual experience of women in the immediate aftermath of giving birth. And I don’t know what to tell you about that…

Round about the same time I simultaneously lived a life in the head of the most insecure and sensitive version of myself I have ever known. Was my partner really being dismissive? Or was it the hormones? Was everyone more interested in taking photos of the men in my child’s life holding him than they were me, his mother, with my overgrown roots in need of a highlight, and my face in a dehydrated puff? Couldn’t they see the remarkable thing I had done, was doing, just by sitting politely in their presence, allowing them to cradle my days old infant? …Or was it the hormones? Did my baby secretly hate me, think I was completely inept and sense that I was missing some key mothering gene because I hadn’t been raised in a traditional middle class nuclear household? Or…

In one version of reality I was cooly detached. I didn’t ride in the backseat with him when we brought him home from the hospital. I felt oddly proud of this, like I had dodged some poisoned arrow that made mothers mad with worry. I didn’t want him to become the center of my life, but also didn’t quite appreciate what having this want even meant. I was startled yet when I didn’t feel love at first sight. At that point in time he was a small and fragile stranger. I felt deep, grave responsibility. I felt awe, I felt curiosity, I felt pride, but I didn’t feel love.

Where was his mother, anyway? I had expected to meet her with that first whiff of birth, expected her arms to be the ones cradling this new small thing. But every time I looked down I just saw two bottomless black eyes set into a wrinkled face being held by… me. It was still me. It was still the same me who had come roaring into the hospital, who had lit all the candles in the apartment at the onset of contractions, who had moved to New York in 2015, who played with Barbies until she was twelve, who talked to God on her walk home through the yard from the school bus.

Where was his mother? Wasn’t she supposed to be here by now? With all her ancient wisdom whispered between replicating genomes; coded knowing coating her brain stem. I needed her. I needed her assurances. I needed her rhythmic bounce in my knees, her swift and graceful hands, her melodic serenades, her low tide of a heart rate. He will taste the anxiousness in my milk, I thought. He will see right through me.

In one I was an exploding star; the atom bomb. A chain reaction of split nuclei that consumed every cell of my body; the origin of light and energy; a wormhole connecting never and forever. I can feel every sensation still as though the aftershocks are echoing in my bones. It was the most authentic moment of my life. I would live it a thousand times over. The pain was so pure, like it was the only real thing to ever exist.

At once I seemed also to be every mother to have ever existed, and each one on the planet now. His utter dependence channeled an acute awareness towards twenty thousands leagues of pain that roars within the ocean of human existence. So many mothers, so many babies, brought round to each other in such a cruel world. The intimate knowledge of this particular type of softness, of a creature’s utter innocence, feels as though a layer has been peeled off my life and my heart stands stark naked floating in front of my chest. We are lucky, he and I, here in the heave-ho of this rocking chair; millions more have not been. There is so much pressure applied to the satisfaction of these basic needs to ensure an entire species survival. Women have worn this responsibility ragged and woven it anew, each generation threading more cloth through the loom. We continue to define mothering’s very meaning. We are linked to the beginning of time by taking up this task. It is heavy, it is endless, it should absolutely always be a mother fucking choice.

And then I became the furniture. A pair of arms, lips to whisper, a head held heavy on an aching neck. Disparate body parts automated to rote tasks of survival: brush teeth, rock baby, smile at relative, one foot…the other foot… one foot… No one really seeing beyond my unremarkable and routine function. Just a space onto which a baby rested. His first home, assembly not required.

Now, I am in the present more than anytime in my past, and the present is an endless, dizzying space for which I am glad to kick off my shoes and tread slowly through. I mother in my own manner. I mother him while I mother me while I mother some part of the future I won’t live to see but will bear my mark, my smudge of lipstick on its collar. I am becoming endless.

Now pour me another, and rub my shoulders, for I am also tired.

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