A year of motherhood

On Halloween of 2015 I had my fortune told. I asked what the next year would hold for me. The card reader was none too pleased with my broad and vague question. I’m not an especially emotive person I’ve been told and it means these readings tend to go awry as I don’t give much for them to react to. She started talking about a male figure who would be a strong presence in my life and as there wasn’t anyone I could connect it to she suggested maybe it was god. Hard no there. I love a good tarot reading but felt this one was bunk for me.

Sometime not long after that reading I got pregnant, with a child that is anatomically speaking male. This past week my baby turned one.

It’s true, a year is a broad expanse of time, hard to define. Time seems to slip off it’s axis with a baby; the days pass by so slowly but you blink and a whole month has passed. You’re always looking forward at milestones and simultaneously feeling a strange amnesia as to when things happened.

I tried to write something when I was still home on maternity leave but it turned into a jumble of unfinished sentences and thoughts. My exhaustion ran so deep I could not think straight, let alone write. I knew those first few months would be hard but I did not know how thoroughly destroyed I would feel. Between waking every two hours, recovering from the birth and the intense flood of hormones that came with it and any nutrients I was getting being literally drained from by body in the form of breastmilk, I felt like a ghost of myself.

Having a newborn reasserted for me that community is necessary. I wish our lives weren’t isolated as much as they are in this modern world. Communal living, which I’ve always been interested in, makes even more sense now than it did before. Having people around right after I gave birth was essential for me. I felt isolated and alone, especially after Shawn went back to work, and having people visit, even just being around and not doing anything, made a world of difference. I desperately wanted to be around other adults but getting out at the beginning was hard and I could never figure out the timing of getting to certain mom groups or was too nervous to go. There was something deeper though, even now, where being a single family alone still feels sort of wrong, like we should be connected with others.

I’m thankful that I was able to find a community online to connect with. They saved my sanity and answered my inane questions for the many months when I had no idea what I was doing. They helped support me when I felt disconnected from everything from my life before. There were so many times when I was trapped under a baby when I was still able to check in with my people on my phone and I’m not sure how people managed before without that. I suppose they had friends and neighbors who might drop by in real life. Or they were just lonely.

Friends warned me how hard breastfeeding would be. I’m not hardline about any parenting strategy in particular so I had already made peace with the possibility of using formula despite the rhetoric of breastfeeding being the way and the light. Yet when we struggled from the beginning I could not let it go. I toiled through weeks of pain and things just not working, hours of being attached to machines and not able to just cuddle my baby, meeting with expensive consultants and taking hard to get medications, just because there’s this idea that breastmilk is magic and not just food. I cried a lot. I felt like I was in a limbo because I wanted to give up but I was afraid of feeling like a failure and never being able to turn back that decision.

I held out as long as I could, basically until pumping at work became an exercise in uselessness. I am proud of myself for making it as long as I could under the circumstances. I can’t help but feel a twinge of remorse looking back that I could have just switched to formula fully earlier and had some more freedom. Realistically I’m not sure I would have found more freedom, I was still learning how to take care of a newborn, but it would have been a relief to not have had to do all that I did. Alternatively, I look back still and just wished things worked. They didn’t and there wasn’t anything I could do about it and yet I still wish there was a way.

A lot of people talk about getting back to themselves after they have a kid. At the beginning there was certainly a loss of autonomy and an inability to do the creative things that before felt like they defined me. I would never say that I didn’t feel myself though. To be honest I feel even more myself now as a mother than I felt before. It was if it was always a part of me that I had just been waiting for. This comes as no surprise to me.

There certainly was an adjustment as things got more manageable, and as I went back to work, to not having as much free time. Overall I don’t mind that much though. I don’t feel like I had expanses of free time before, but rather that I have more to do now and generally do it more efficiently. Creative endeavors are still a struggle but I don’t feel as bad about it. Instead of feeling like I’m letting things slip by, I feel like my time is full and it seems right.

It’s been hard to connect with people again, even now, especially when our main form of socializing before was going to the movies, an activity that’s not especially baby friendly. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still slightly submerged in motherhood and I need to make an effort to build community again. To be honest I was never great at making plans though, so I’m letting myself off the hook a little.

I’ve seen my fair share of sexism, overt and otherwise, but having a child has really highlighted the societal ways that women are pushed down. I’m fortunate to have a job that has been understanding of my time off and schedule but just thinking about how men don’t have to deal with many of these things makes my blood boil. Women I know have stayed at bad jobs so they wouldn’t lose their FMLA protections. Others have been fired while pregnant or on leave even though it’s illegal. It is such a hinderance to have to build in a year of work if you want to make any change in your career if you also want to plan to have a child. I took time off to stay home with our son but no one expected Shawn to do the same. It creates an imbalance from the beginning that is hard to correct even in the best of situations. There is a certain level of responsibility that comes with being a gestational parent but I wish culturally that other things were a bit more level. In the current political climate, where it feels like we’re backsliding on women’s rights daily, all of these fears and frustrations have been crystallized.

I’ll try not to end on such a negative note though. Despite the difficulties, having a kid has been an absolute joy. We are still going on adventures and though it takes a bit more planning and a little more travel time it’s been great. Things I’ve always wanted to do (making a halloween costume for my kid for example) have been a delight. All the hard things are offset by exciting firsts and dreams come to fruition.

I don’t know what the future of this blog will be. I do miss having a place to write, but I know that blogging is not the same as it used to be. I probably won’t write much on parenting going forward because I’m certainly no expert and I don’t feel especially comfortable with sharing details about my child with the whole world. I was feeling reflective and wanted to put some of my thoughts on this first year down though for myself if nothing else. I’m looking forward to incorporating more creative things back into my life. I can’t wait to make another quilt (when it cools down) and perhaps will share some of those projects like in the old days.