The Reluctant Mother

I'm just going to level with you: I've been struggling lately. By "lately" I mean "since I found out I'm becoming a mother." Typically I don't write negative things. I like to be a shiny, happy person. But this has been weighing on my mind, and it's not really a negative thing, and I know there are other women out there who must feel this way, too. And keeping quiet has never been my style.  

Before we go too far down this rabbit hole, I think it's also important that you hear that I've been telling James this whole while. When Nora gets here, I am going to love her in that deep, ferocious, world-shifting sort of way that only mothers can love the little people who spent the better part of a year assaulting them from the inside. I already feel with her a connection that words can't really wrap themselves around. I know when she's happy. I know when she's frustrated. I know when it's OK to negotiate which snack we eat, and when it's just better for everyone if she get a milkshake and a marshmallow square and a nap. My dreams for this world, the world I'm bringing my daughter into, are bigger now. My hope for good tomorrows has never been so clear or so strong or so... urgent. Nothing I'm about to confess to you takes away from the fact that I feel my heart growing-- I assume, not unlike the Grinch felt his heart growing-- three sizes each day her arrival gets closer. The love between my kid and I is going to transcend space and time and logic and reason. There are zero doubts about that. 

And. At the same time, we all know that LOVE in itself is wonderful, but it's not enough to create a balanced, healthy life. You need patience and mutual understanding and confidence and peace and a handful of other ingredients that I'm struggling to keep in stock in our family pantry lately. There was a time, once upon a time, when I wasn't even sure I wanted to become a mother. Then I met James and suddenly there was another person out there who created a space in the world for me to stand where I could just be who I was, no editing myself, no scaling back the pieces of my personality that were usually too big, no feeling like I had to apologize for things I said or thought or did. In what was the easiest and most serious commitment I ever made to another person, I found so much support to be free... to just be myself. It took me awhile to come around to the idea of being someone else's wife. I still haven't changed my name, but I will. Soon. Probably.

The crisis in identity isn't something that's uncommon among pregnant women, either. A quick Google search told me that the fear I had about going from Mallory Murphy to Mrs. James Viscardi to Nora's Mom wasn't unusual... or invalid. Apparently, lot of women have intense mixed feelings about feeling so far removed from the women they spent basically a lifetime pushing themselves to become. It's comforting to know I'm not alone, but the only experience I can speak for is my own. Here's what I know: March of last year, the job I moved to Nashville to take went away. It wasn't personal, it wasn't even about my professional performance. The company simply restructured. I found myself in a strange place with a choice to make: go back to work for someone else (an amazing woman, who I'll always wish I had had as a boss and mentor, but taking an almost 50% pay cut) or start freelancing and work for myself and wear yoga pants all the time (taking an even bigger pay cut, but, you know... YOGA PANTS). Yoga pants won. I mean... investing in myself won.

Then at some point around August James and I sort of did the math and realized, with me working from home full time, there's really no reason not to think about starting our family. How badly could pregnancy impede my ability to work online and write? Right? RIGHT? Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahwaaaaaahhhhh *sob*. Excuse me. I'm better now. 

After all, since meeting James, I knew I wanted to have a kid with him. Can you imagine having the opportunity to see what our child's eyelashes would look like and not taking it? It would be a disservice to humanity. Also: any anxiety I felt about my potential shortcomings as a mother was mitigated by how patient and compassionate and kind and generous of spirit my wonderful husband is. But. But. 

What I didn't anticipate was how blurry the line would get for me, between Working from Home for Myself and Being Completely and Utterly Isolated, Sick, and OH MY GOD AM I RESENTFUL? Right around 12 weeks into pregnancy, when I was so sick I could barely hold myself upright for more than 10 minutes at a time, when I couldn't sleep and couldn't eat and couldn't feel the baby moving and couldn't see the light at the end of this tunnel, I realized how wrong I had been about this dog and pony show not really altering my life. Some women, I told myself, do this so gracefully. I just need to get my shit together.  But if we're being honest here, and we might as well be, that's not what my experience has been like. I've struggled every step of the way, from the nausea to the mental dulling to the fact that I have to flail around like an overturned turtle every time I have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. It's funny, when you retell the story, but at 2 a.m. when it's DO OR DIE even though you just peed an hour ago, the whole situation loses a bit of its humor.

There was just so little rally in me, something new and shocking and unexpected. My editors, bless their loving hearts, were patient. The morning sickness went away at 25 weeks, but came back at 28, and now here I am at 35 and I'm staring down the barrel of what suddenly feels like a very loaded gun: I'm about to become a mother. I'm left with more questions than answers. And my brain, the tool I treasured above all my other tools, has gone soft and slippery. I spend most of my days now wandering through the apartment, trying to remember what it was I was looking for, and where I might have left it. (It's always my glass of water, and honestly I have a 50% or so success rate on locating it before James gets home and is all, "Why are there two glasses of water in the bath tub?") 

That's when the anxiety really started to creep in. Yes, I wanted to be a mother. Yes, James and I agreed that when the time came to start our family, one of us would ideally work from home and parent. Spoiler: in all our plans, it had always been James, the patient, loving, nurturing half of our dynamic duo. But that's just not how the game played itself out for us. I wanted to be a mother, but I struggle with the idea of being just a mother. What about the degree I worked so hard to earn? What about the career goals I had paused, not realizing how long and hard 10 months of a life can be when your body and mind start failing you? What about the role model I'd always imagined myself being for my daughter? I gave my mother such an incredibly hard time, because she never had to work. I had such little respect for her because what did she know? She never applied to colleges or went away to school or had career aspirations. From where I stood, she had picked a small life for herself, and I couldn't wrap my head around how that could ever possibly be enough for a woman of brains and substance like myself. Writing those words now, I realize how awful and small my mind was back then, how limited my perspective. 

And yet. Part of me still feels that way about the situation in which I find myself. Professionally, I have a couple choices of paths I could go down and still work from home (sadly, it's starting to look like the cookie company might not make the list, thanks to an oversight in my research about state-to-state shipping regulations). I can't do everything anymore. I am going to have to choose, and at a time in my life when I feel parts of myself slipping away, slipping through my fingers, this terrifies me. I understand that it's a sacrifice anyone who becomes a parent has to make. Not just me. Not just women. Not just my husband and I. James and I live full, crazy, chaotic lives. How do we know what to let go of? How do I pick what makes the cut? How do we know how much space is going to be enough for Nora when she gets here? I'm not just talking about fitting her into our home, I'm talking about fitting her into our hearts. What if our love for her is so complete and huge that it shoves out room for anything else? Is that even a bad thing? The independent, smart, strong woman I used to be is standing in the back of my mind, dressed in stilettos for work, clinging to her dream of a Ph.D., screaming, "Yes, yes! That's a very bad thing!" I've seen women martyr themselves to motherhood. I've seen the light in their souls go out, because there wasn't balance against being Mom full-time. I'm going to love my kid, but I don't want to let my light go out. I don't want to give that part of me up. I don't want her to see me like that. And where I stand now, working from home (but not very much), struggling with pregnancy... It feels a lot like teetering on the edge of a cliff that I could very well fall over. 

I worry that the maternal instincts won't kick in. I worry that motherhood won't take with me, that I'll feel reluctant about letting go and handing myself over to it, whatever that looks like, once she shows up. I know that I'm going to love her, I just don't know if I'm going to love her in a way that feels like enough for her, in a way that doesn't make me feel like I've lost myself entirely. Pregnancy has taught me a lot about playing the cards that I'm dealt, and I'm not looking for reassurance here. Honestly, it's wonderful to know so many mothers have been able to figure all this out. I'm sure I will, too. I always do. With James by my side and my amazing parents, it's impossible for this to end badly. Even with me for a mother, Nora has an exceptional family built up around her. She's going to be so well-loved. She's going to be just fine. But right now, it's scary and overwhelming for me to not be able to clearly see the whole path ahead of me. It's not good enough to know that I'll get there someday, that eventually I'll find myself as a mother without losing myself as a person. I want to know when. I want to know how.

The only way to learn those things is to live through it. It's just that simple. For me, that means focusing on what I can control: working with James to create a space in the world for my daughter, where she can stand and just be herself. That's how I understand true love. And maybe love isn't enough to build an entire life together on, but it's certainly more than sufficient as a beacon in the dark. It's the first thing I have to offer my little Nora. I don't know much else about being a mother, yet, but I do know that in the absence of patience and confidence and certainty, love is enough to get us through for now. I have faith and optimism and hope that the rest will follow, and I keep walking (waddling) onward.