Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mama Bean may not have been ready to be a mama. And yet, here we are

I'm a big proponent of owning your choices. By which I mean, once you've decided, go forward with that decision, and don't spend a lot of time wondering if you made the right choice. That's a good way to go crazy. Whatever choice you made was the right choice by virtue of you making it. Now, live it. Do what you have to do to emphasize the rightness of the choice.

I don't have a tonne of existential angst about motherhood. This pregnancy was not as on-purpose as others, but once the "decision" was made, once the test came up positive, it was the right thing. I wasn't being naive, my brain flashed through a variety of challenges raised by the timing: just bought a new business, how much leave should I take, can we afford it, etc. And then I set about doing what needed to be done. As much as we tried to plan for every eventuality of labour and delivery, still Bean surprised us five days early, and we set about doing what need to be done. We stepped forward into parenthood, without much knowledge, and certainly no time to wring our hands over the Meaning Of It All.

I have yet to meet a first-time mama who isn't overwhelmed by her ignorance on what exactly one is supposed to do with a baby. I know there are these EarthMamas out there who just know, but I'm not one of them. It took us upwards of ten or fifteen minutes to change Bean's diaper the first time, and that was with both of our collective faculties working at it. (This probably explains why we were peed on so often. Kid must pee every ten minutes, it seems. I got skillz now, change in a minute or less, no pee on my pants.) It took days to figure out how to swaddle, weeks to get a (tenuous) handle on breastfeeding. And none of this is helped by the hormonal crash-out, sleep deprivation, and general Delirium.

What is continually impressed upon me, through the Delirium and ignorance and ongoing confusion/awe/joy, is how smart babies are. Bean knows exactly what he needs - hungry, gross diaper, sleepy, love me. And he picks up the necessary communication tools as required - new baby fussums, then crying, some squeals and gurgles, screeching... and the body language, happy legs, happy hands; angry legs, anxious hands. A face that doesn't know how to hide what it's feeling yet. (I dread that day, when I first see his heart trying to hide from me.)

There is a very anxious new mama at breastfeeding clinic. She is willing to ask about all the same concerns I had, which shows more bravery than me, who just sat worrying and lurking the Internet for baby-punditry that failed to comfort. What is comforting is having answers and comfort to offer her, and feeling knowledgeable and capable. Look how far we've come, baby!

I have another friend who suffered panic attacks for months after her baby was born. Our offline lives and the online community are both rife with mamas overcoming postpartum depression and anxiety. Nobody is underwhelmed, or even merely whelmed by having a child; we are all overwhelmed beyond belief. Bean's birth hit Papa Bean like a tonne of bricks. He was so weighed down with responsibility and anxiety and love, it squeezed the tears from his tired, anxious eyes. Whenever he ran errands to get all the things we didn't know we were going to need, and took a little too long, I worried that he'd been in an accident, that he couldn't find what we needed, that he'd been robbed or killed and Bean and I were left defenseless and alone. I had expected to lean (heavily) on him through those early days (as I lean on him through pretty much Everything), I didn't think I'd be just as concerned for him as I was for our new Bean.

But I didn't just get a baby that day. I got a family. And the love and anxiety and Overwhelm of it all is not just for the baby, it's for my family. A few days ago, Papa Bean told me one of the things that helped him come back into himself. He read a post by another dad who explained, "You were born to do this." We are born to make babies, to make family, to Be Parents. We don't all do it the same way, in fact, we all do it entirely our own way. (This is why baby-punditry is, by definition, so blastedly diverse and contradictory.) We don't have to know How to do it, with our reasoned neocortex, but we will do it anyway, with the animal programming of our archicortex. We are born ready.
I want, I want, I want, but you don’t know what you want or how to get it. You hardly know who you are. You go on instinct. And your instinct mostly pushes you toward adventures you won’t grasp until you look back on them. Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward. -Erica Jong, Fear of Flying (from this blog)
Sometimes this feels like a marathon. Each diaper is a step, each feeding a mile, always going uphill, always getting more complicated (but eventually getting more sleep. Right? Right?) It is instinct, answering Bean's cry in the middle of the night - the last thing my neocortex wants to do at 3 am is leave my warm, comfy bed. It is instinct to protect him as we travel in our cars, though the neocortex devises lovely tools for accomplishing the task. I've got to keep looking forward, live forward, own it, this motherhood thing. But I can't really do that, unless I look back, and see how far we've come. That's when I see it. That I'm a mom. I was born for this.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post. I don't know if we're every really ready for this motherhood thing. I really like that you pointed out that we are born for this - it is what we are made to do. A friend is waiting for an ultrasound to find out if she is having twins and I know she is freaked out and worried about how she will cope - her hubby even more so. My thought is that women just get things done. We do what we need to do and do it well.

    I'm looking forward to reading your blog!