This story does not have an ending, I am unfolding as a mother, as a writer, as a friend, as a wife, as a daughter and as an individual every moment.
There are things that no woman tells another about motherhood. I will tell you this: I died. It was not childbirth. My labors were long and hard and beautiful. I have given birth twice: once to a screaming soul who shattered my idealistic visions of motherhood, the second time to an infant so ancient she didn’t utter a sound as she was lifted by the midwife from the water of the birthing tub, she just started at us. Both times my heart was cracked—shattered really and there would be no repairing it. The love that stretched and tore and suckled and broke my sleep was one so profound that nothing could have prepared me for it.
The yellow from the canvas of day bled all over the black watercolor of night and time became nothing. There was a rhythm of waking of feeding and sleeping. Of changing diapers and cuddling and eating again of sleeping again and I was lost in the curves of my children’s wrists and in the folds of their necks and the freshly baked bread smell of a new baby and the fragile, startling cries that made me gasp inaudibly and sent my heart flitting in my chest like a desperate butterfly.
Motherhood was all consuming.
There was nothing I wouldn’t learn, nothing I wouldn’t do to make the journey of my children from the realm of the unknown, the ether, the ancestors, to the harsh world I knew easier. I dove into homeopathy, herbs and aromatherapy to soothe my first born, I carried her wrapped around my back in fabric, I was as close to her as her breath. I eliminated all my favorite spices from my diet lest they upset her belly. I devoured writings on mothering. I was too exhausted to write, but I knew that gift was mine and I knew that in time I would get back to it. This gift, this new life, had come through me and it was time to focus on her. I’d get back to me.
When I did get back to me, I was gone. This is the thing that women don’t tell each other about motherhood. That you will never be who you were. That you will not see anything the way you used to see it, you will never hear language the way you used to hear it, music, color, photos, friends, family, career path–nothing or no one came through my transition from single woman to mother unexamined. Least of all myself.
I remember walking through the Lower East Side of Manhattan with a friend one evening. My husband pushed our first child down the chilled, narrow sidewalks in a grey stroller while I carried our second baby prominently in my belly, “My whole life had been about me. I was self-centered,” I said to our friend. “Of course,” my friend replied and he urged me not to feel guilty about that. “This is so different. I am not the center of my universe anymore.” It was not guilt I felt. It was as though I was walking between worlds. The old me who roamed the neighborhood we were now in with panther’s grace. The me who wound in and out of bookstores and cafes and had nothing but time and her journal on her hands. The me at poetry readings, featured and popular. The me who would disappear for weeks or months; gone to a retreat in Spain or on an adventure in England, sitting rapt in classrooms as teacher or student. That me with her lovers and dramas and poems and phone calls at 3am. And that other me, the one who barely reached for pen and paper. The me who cooked and did laundry and graded papers and shopped for groceries while pushing a stroller. The me with a husband who worked the night shift. I was on, always, no clocking in or out, always breastfeeding, cleaning, changing diapers, singing the alphabet or something. Old friends with self-absorbed ways didn’t make sense to me anymore. The city I loved seemed coarse and cold (particularly when no one would give me a seat on the subway.) Who was I then? Full of a quietly growing life, pushing a toddler in a stroller, doing yoga to maintain my equilibrium, living in a tense home dealing with disappointment at having to do some much alone despite being in a city of millions, some of whom I had called family, some of whom I had called friend.
I would look in the mirror back then and see a warrior. Glowing skin, quick smile, delicately muscled with tear-stained insides and questions and faith. I did not know that beautiful woman in the mirror. I just knew what she had to do. Knew what she needed to do to help her family get through that day and the next. She was lonely sometimes. I surrendered. Let myself dance invisibly. Let my identity fall through the cracks. Waited for a new self to emerge.
A new self did emerge. This is what women do not tell each other. I want to say it here: You will die when you become a mother and it will hurt and it will be confusing and you will be someone you never imagined and then, you will be reborn. Truthfully, I have never wanted to be the woman I was before I had children. I loved that woman and I loved that life but I don’t want it again. My daughters have made me more daring, more human, more compassionate. Their births have brought me closer to the earth and they have helped me pare my life down to its essentials. Writing, quick prayers, good food, a few close friends, many deep breaths, love, plants, dancing, music, teaching-these are the ingredients of my/this new self. I waited for this new self in the dark, in the bittersweet water of letting go, in the heavy heartbeat of learning to be a mother, against the isolation, I grew and emerged laughing and crying and here I am, sisters and brothers.
Here I am.
(This piece was first published in June 2010 by the fantastic folks at The Mom Egg. Check out their blog, their reading series, and their literary journal.The publisher, Marjorie Tesser, is a gifted and deeply inspiring Mama.)