This is the piece that started it all. I wrote this piece for the aforementioned audition (see last post). I could edit and re-edit it for fifty more years and never feel like I got it quite right, but that stands in opposition to what I’m trying to accomplish here. Perfectionism is the enemy of done. So here goes.
For the audition, I called this piece “No One Wants to Know.”
There are things that no one wants to know about motherhood. Two years ago, with my belly swollen beyond a shadow of a doubt, I was approached by friends and strangers alike with endless questions. “When are you due?” “Are you having a boy or a girl?” And my all-time favorite, “Are you sure it’s not twins?” It seemed they wanted to know everything. Now, it’s still early days for me as a mom. My son is not quite two, but I have come to understand that there are parts of being a mother that people just don’t want to know about. Let me give you a few for instances.
People don’t want to know that having a child can be life-threatening. They like to think that a woman dying in childbirth is something that happened way back when in days of yore. I liked to think this too, until it almost happened to me. Ten days after my son was born, my own mother found me unconscious and bleeding on the bathroom floor. My uterus had become an infected, open wound. I didn’t realize this was happening because I knew nothing about what a uterus was supposed to do after pregnancy. As I was rushed to emergency surgery, I went into shock and could feel myself floating above my shivering, gray body in an oddly calm state. The only stable thought in my blurry mind, “I’m going to die and leave my baby.” This is a phone call that no husband wants to get on his first day back to work. These are things that no one tells you, because you really don’t want to know.
And people definitely don’t want to know that a near-death experience can set into motion anxiety, depression, and heart-pounding panic. If they’re going to hear about it, they would much rather hear that the terrifying event gave you a new lease on life and showed you how to focus on what was really important. Nope. When I recovered from surgery, my all-consuming source of anxiety was my inability to breastfeed my son. Whether because of my blood loss or some other reason, my milk would not come in. I began an excruciating regimen of feeding and pumping and supplementing and taking herbs and trying every possible way to force my body into doing something that it just wasn’t going to do. But people don’t tell you that some women just don’t or can’t make enough milk to feed their babies. In trying to be helpful, they give you the hope that if you just keep trying, it will happen. Or maybe they don’t say it because they know you won’t really hear it, because it’s something no one wants to know.
No one wants to know if you battle daily, irrational fears that something terrible is about to happen. And when it turns out your son needs surgery, albeit a minimally invasive one, you may find yourself thinking “This is it. This is when I lose this baby that I never deserved to have in the first place.” Because in the sleep-starved hours of the night, you can’t stop thinking “I’ve made a terrible mistake. I can’t do this.” Because it’s not that you ever thought you’d be some laid back, earth mother or anything, but you just thought you’d be…better. And you’re not. You’re just you. You with a brain that has become the enemy. Or rather, an animal brain that has overtaken your once logical brain. Your brain is all zebras hightailing it away from lions, and a zebra stampede is just not appropriate in the suburbs. No one wants to deal with the clean up.
When friends, relatives, co-workers, and even doctors ask if everything is going okay with the new baby, they really don’t want to know that it’s not. So it may take you approximately a million hours of gazing at your sweet baby’s face to realize that his mama deserves to feel better. To work up the courage to reach out and say “I need help.” But when you do, slowly but surely, you can start to uncover new highs that match and even surpass the lows. Because through hard work, the beast brain can be tamed.
And well-meaning strangers might still ask questions like “Any plans for another baby?” But you learn to just smile and keep the answers to yourself. Because you’ve begun to realize that motherhood can be unifying and not isolating. You know this to be true as you lock eyes with a stranger across a crowded mall play place. Each of you swings a fussy toddler onto her hip, and the truth is in this moment, both the darkness and the light. It’s definitely worth knowing about.
So this is where I’m coming from. I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. But I’m here. I’m showing up every day and trying to work it all out. I’d love to hear your stories related to pregnancy, birth, and parenthood in the comments. Speak your truth into the light.
I love you all.