When people ask, ‘How’s motherhood?’ I tell them it’s a lot like Stockholm Syndrome: I’m so in love with the tiny captor who’s commandeered my time and energy. Spontaneous trips to the pub or the cinema on a Saturday afternoon belong to the single woman, or the amorous couple.
Like a crazy Japanese game show, the floor suddenly dropped out from underneath me and I fell free-fall in front of a laughing audience. My sense of self unmoored from the usual trappings of ego: appearance, work, friends.
I recently returned to work, one day a week. I was delirious with the prospect of freedom, to be sprung free from the relentless restraints of parenting, to redefine the outlines of my identity.
The first day, I drop Matilda off at her Grandparents with a car-boot full of toys and fuss over her, detailing her schedule and preferences. I walk out the door guilty, noting that she hasn’t registered the slightest hint of distress at my driving off.
All day, I’m plagued with thoughts of her well-being, even with in-laws who are extremely qualified, caring people. I call and text several times and on return I rush to sweep her up in my arms and cover her in kisses, smelling her hair. She looks more than a little irked that I interrupted her floor explorations.
“Another person has existed in her, and after their birth they will live within the jurisdiction of her consciousness.” Rachel Cusk
When Rachel Cusk detailed her entry into the world of parenting: (‘isolating, frequently boring, relentlessly demanding and exhausting’), people were calling for her child to be taken away.
It’s a tricky line to traverse, being honest about the difficulties of self-determination in parenting, while at the same time, feeling like you’ve won the lottery.
It doesn’t help that the baby identifies as being one with the mother for many months after they’re born. The developmental stage of realising they’re a separate entity sparking separation anxiety.
The fusion of mother-baby identity is another loss for the mother’s own selfhood.
“When she is with them she is not herself; when she is without them she is not herself,” Rachel Cusk
I devour books on motherhood, manuals, online forums with one urgent question: what is a mother?
A mother is probably someone who started a Pinterest board for their daughter’s first birthday months ago and has already planned the cake because she’s Martha freaking Stewart, not leaving it to the last minute and texting everyone to come over for a BBQ.
A mother is someone who doesn’t fret about her new circumstances but embraces them with grace and elegance, joyfully giving her body and time for her babies.
Where do I get these ideas?
The mythology of motherhood, formed by the aspirations of tired, frustrated women who don’t feel like they’re enough?
Perhaps I’m scared of losing myself.
For the last year, I’ve been writing as though my life depends on it. Trying to forge a path back to the self I used to know before it became obscured by a string of sleepless nights and bodily ails.
Matilda snoozes and I surround myself with books, notebook and laptop. A tiny yelp on her waking is a painful jolt back to reality. I’m a freshly discovered stowaway, emerging begrudgingly, hands in air.
Writing feels like the final frontier, the last wrestle for selfhood.
The pendulum has swung too far, we’re told as mothers that we can have our Martha Stewart-approved cake and eat it too. Life can be the same, with a bonus child!
We wrestle, haunted by the ghosts of our former selves.
But maybe this isn’t a wrestle. Maybe the self I once knew no longer exists. The path leading back to her has grown over. I could try and return but it would be a violent hacking of foliage and no guarantees I would make it.
I’m on a different path. It’s a harder track but the view is just as beautiful. I will be depleted but if I’m going to be poured out for anything, parenting and family life is worthy.
And the experience of motherhood is deeply personal. Not prescribed from books or websites or forums. It’s not just Parenting with a capital ‘P’, it’s a unique relationship with this little human who occupied my body and will occupy my mind for the rest of my life.
My heart walking outside of my body.
I’ve managed to navigate my own heart through the thickets of love and loss, the mountains and valleys. I will do the same for my daughter with intuition, an abundance of love and an ability to say ‘I was wrong’.
“If I should have a daughter, instead of Mom, she’s gonna call me Point B, because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.” Sarah Kay
This morning as I lie in bed, the house is blanketed in silence, peace. Instead of writing, I’m scrolling through photos of Matilda on my phone. I surrender. ‘Me-time’ is overrated and before long she’ll be walking down her own path.
I tiptoe into her room to watch her sleep.
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