Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Notes on REAL Motherhood

I recently found out that some dear friends of mine are expecting. And after coming off of the childhood plague that hit my house for the start of 2007, I was finding it difficult to rally the enthusiasm to get really excited. Now wait, before you all call me a bad mother, or an ingrate, or a general grinch, read on.

I was finding it difficult to rally enthusiasm in the midst of the worst childhood illnesses that have hit my children since their respective arrivals because I was EXHAUSTED and kind of down on "mommy-hood." My kids have never been as sick as they were for the past 4 weeks, yes, that's 4 STRAIGHT WEEKS! And caring for them throughout all of this has been exhausting in every way. So naturally, after a month of caring for vomiting, coughing, sneezing, infected, diarrhea spewing babies, I was feeling a little down on the joys of motherhood....or at least wondering where they'd gone.

The kids are starting to get better finally (we have a check-up tomorrow - keep your fingers crossed), and I'm beginning to enjoy my time with them again. We were able to play together for the last couple of days without me having to run for a bowl or a tissue or a rag to wipe of the multiple carpet stains that document the last 4 weeks' trials. And I'm enjoying my kids again. They are amazing!...and adorable...and fun...and lovable...and I love squeezing them tight. And I am SO LUCKY to have two beautiful, healthy, thriving children without any major illnesses. But in the midst of "the plague," as I now like to call it, I would occasionally vent to someone about how awful taking care of two sick babies was, and I found myself getting the "look." Those of you that are honest mothers know the one I'm talking about. It's the look that says, "How can you complain? You should love your children and care for them without complaint." And to these Martha-Stewart-of-motherhood-moms I say, "PHOOEY!"

Motherhood is wonderful. And I love my kids dearly, more than I love myself most of the time. But I, and anyone else out there, would be a fool to think that I'm always going to love doing it. It's hard. It's dirty. It's taxing. And some days, you just don't want to get up and do it again. But you do. You love your kids more than life itself, so you do what you have to do, even when you don't want to. Yet if you look through the "mommy" books, and read the discussion groups and visit the mommy and me classes, and all other mommy-clique-venues, it seems that no one is willing to admit to the fact that sometimes being a mom just plain stinks! Nope, rather, we're all expected to glow about motherhood as if it's nothing but roses and sunshine. And when you don't, when you go so far as to mention the slightest bit of unhappiness or boredom, then you are judged as a bad or ungrateful mother. And in my opinion, that's unhealthy, totally and utterly unhealthy, and COMPLETELY unrealistic.

Why isn't anyone HONEST about motherhood, and pregnancy for that matter. Yeah, pregnancy, and especially birth, was miraculous. I'll grant that. I'll never forget the experience of giving birth to my children. It still blows my mind! But pregnancy was also awful at some points. There were excruciating hemorrhoids and heartburn. There were disabling back pain and migraine headaches. There was constant nausea followed by insatiable hunger with no room in my stomach to hold all that I wanted to eat. And the after effects of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding have left me feeling less than positive about my physical self-image. But if you read books on pregnancy, all they talk about is the good stuff; how "glowing" you'll be, how thick your hair gets, how voluptuous you become, etc.etc. Why is there no HONEST account of the other side as well.

And the same holds true for motherhood. As I said, it is wonderful, most of the time. And all the books talk about that until they've run out of ink. But there doesn't seem to be any honest account of the more difficult aspects of motherhood, and there certainly doesn't seem to be a place to vent about it. And frankly, I think both one-sided accounts of pregnancy and motherhood are insulting to women. It's as if the world is saying, "Here is your opportunity to fulfill your womanly duty. It's wonderful. You should love it. And it's your responsibility as a self-less mother to put aside all the not so pleasant parts." Furthermore, in sugar-coating the truth about motherhood, I think all the books and discussion groups leave new moms grossly underprepared to handle the hard stuff. If I had had an honest account of some of the trials of pregnancy and motherhood BEFORE I went through them, I know I would've been much less neurotic and stressed out. Presenting a balanced account of both life experiences EMPOWERS people. It prepares them to deal with the trials and tribulations of life so they can focus more energy on the positive aspects.

Frankly, the one book I found most empowering and enlightening during pregnancy was called, "Pregnancy Sucks!" It was honest. It spent equal time on the wonder of pregnancy and miracle of birth as well as the less than comfortable aspects. And in those moments when I was having a rough time, I referred to this book more than any other for advice and guidance. It was comforting to know the truth, to know what I was really dealing with. And the truth helped me understand when there was really cause for concern and when I was just being a little "nutso!" There should be such a book for motherhood as well....perhaps I'll write one one day.

Beyond books, I think it's unhealthy to discourage the truth about motherhood being discussed in any way as well. A happy mother is a balanced mother. And how can anyone who has gone through a rough time in anything feel balanced and happy if they're repressing feelings? There should be room in our culture for open, healthy discussion about the good AND bad parts of being a parent. Again, I think the discussion would be empowering and foster healthier, more capable parents.

So here I am to say to Tom and Sara....congratulations! I love you guys dearly. I think you're going to be AMAZING parents. And I am SO excited for you! I really, really am! Pregnancy is AMAZING! It's like nothing you'll ever experience again. So enjoy it as much as possible because it goes by so quickly (although around 8 months you'll think it's not quick enough). But know that it is also rough sometimes. And when you hit those patches, please feel free to call me and vent. I will listen and be supportive WITHOUT judgment.

The same holds true for parenting. It's AMAZING watching your child thrive and grow. It's also the HARDEST and most tiring thing you'll ever do. So on days when you feel like wriging your kid's neck because they've written on the wall again, or slapped you in protest of a nap one too many times, take a deep breath, put them in a safe place, and take what I like to call a, "mommy-time-out." Then call me and bitch and complain all you want. And rest assured that I will listen supportively without judgment because I know that even though in the moment you may want to kill him/her (figuratively of course), you love your child so much you'd give up everything you have for him/her, and you are AMAZING parents. Every mom and dad has frustrating, bad days, and long, sleepless nights. In the end, your job is to focus on the great days...the days when they talk for the first time, take their first steps, go down the slide by themselves, go to school for the first time, etc. Remember the hugs, the kisses, the bedtime stories, the trips to Chuck E. Cheese, the birthday parties, and the wonder in their eyes the first time they play in snow or feel rain or see a bee drink from a flower. And when the hard days start to outnumber the great ones, call a friend or your parents, or someone who will understand and tell you whatever it is you need to hear to get through it.

You guys will be amazing parents, and you are in for the ride of your lives. Strap yourself in and hold on because you never know what lies around the bend. But most importantly, be honest. Be honest with yourselves and with each other. Don't be afraid to speak up when it gets hard. Sometimes speaking up and asking for support or help is the only thing that makes it easier. And I'm always, always here to help in any way that I can.
I miss you and love you. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! And I can't wait to see the new baby!!!

P.S. Here's a picture of one of the great moments for a little inspiration.

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