January 17, 2007

Sturm Und Drang: Extreme Motherhood Edition

I was getting out all the tiny boy handmedowns from the basement. Usually this is a task that fills me with a disbelieving, fascinated happiness: "There will be a real baby, and it will be in this house, wearing these clothes!" Instead I got a jolt of nauseated doubt: "I don't even think I want another baby. I don't think I even like babies. Why would I want to start all over again with another baby, getting up in the night, nursing, changing those numerous blowout diapers, dealing with an infant who cries or looks neutral but never smiles? And I'll be sore and puffy, and I'll be so tired, and I'll know that when all I want is some quiet and some time with nobody touching me, Paul will be thinking about when can we have sex again. And all this will be happening with not only a new baby in the house, but two toddlers, plus two older children home from school all summer. Oh my god."

It was an unpleasant few minutes. The only way through this kind of feeling, I think, is a combination of (1) waiting it out, and (2) remembering that I've had this feeling about previous babies and now wouldn't want to exchange even one of them for store credit. Right now, this new baby is unknown to me, a theoretical baby. Soon his existence and safety will be just as essential to my continued happiness as all the other children's. It is hard to comprehend this now--but then, the whole mother love thing is hard to comprehend. How can it be that people who didn't even exist a few years ago are now so important to me that if they died I would want to die too? That's ridiculous. Nine years ago I was living just fine without a single one of them.

One of the things that appeals to me so strongly about pregnancy is the way it so radically alters the world. An entire person appears as if from nowhere. And your life as the mother of this person will be completely different than if you had gone down the path where that baby never was. But this appealing magnitude and importance is also what freaks me the hell out, as well it should. Creating a new person is no small thing, and it shouldn't feel like it is. It feels better to focus on the thrill of it, but it seems natural that the thrill of it is paired with the near horror of it.

When I find myself focusing on the "What have I done?" side of things, I find it useful to pull the camera back. What I am really doing here is continuing the species. Reproducing. This is a totally ordinary--even banal--activity. Eat, sleep, bear young. No big deal.

Or it helps to fast-forward. In twenty years I'll be well into my 50s. I'll be fretting about what to wear to my son's wedding, and I'll be trying not to tell women with tiny screaming children that these are the best years of their lives. I'm not going to care anymore about the morning sickness or the worries about spacing or the worries about who has to share which toys, and my guess is that one child more or less isn't going to seem like a big difference at that point. My guess is that I'll be struggling to remember that we'd only planned to have four. My guess is that it will seem unthinkable that we wouldn't have had this boy, too.


desperate housewife said...

Weird, I so had a moment like that today. I went over to see a friend of mine (mother of the yet-unborn Elliot Byron) who has been stuck in the house with bronchitis for three, count 'em, three weeks, pregnant and tired, with a sick toddler to boot. So we took the kiddos and got the heck out of the house, just to McDonalds, but oh well. And it was just suck a freaking ordeal, getting the two toddlers into boots and coats and hats and lugged into their carseats and then back out again ten minutes later, and we were chasing them around the entire time we were eating and... blech. It was fun, but just so unfocused and exhausting. I just wanted to talk to my friend, not play musical chairs and try to get my daughter to eat something, dear God, besides french fries. And I couldn't help but think, "Hmm. A nursing newborn in a knee-whacking infant carrier is not really going to help this situation any." And I had to just block out that little, "What was I thinking?" moment.

Swistle said...

"A nursing newborn in a knee-whacking infant carrier is not really going to help this situation any"---Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! So funny.

My friends and I sometimes say to each other, "Listen, this isn't a good time, let's talk later like when all the kids have left home."