It doesn’t feel as permanent as it should. I still linger at the window; I am still expectant (though of what, I do not know. Relief? Permission?). I’ve barely shaken the sense that someone left her here, some unduly trusting soul, trying to teach me something. On occasion, I anticipate that this someone will reemerge to reclaim her. The prospect doesn’t sadden me. We have never been apart long enough for me to miss her; in her absence, I feel raw obligation to return. And I do. I rush.
It is unromantic.
When this someone comes, to determine if her trust has been ill-placed, an inspection will occur, making clear just how many of my duties I perform not with particular joy but by rote. I mother because I must, not because I am given to throes of euphoria while doing so. This, I suppose, is common. But there is something else, equally obvious: I had been waiting.
I am glad that someone has come.
* * *
You need to make her be quiet. The neighbors downstairs will hear her jumping and laughing at this hour, and they’ll call DHS. DHS loves to take black children.
* * *
It has been 40 months. No one has come. It is possible, now, that no one will.
I fill the hours with embraces and photographs, kitchen karaoke and dining room dance parties. Frequent I love you’s. So many kisses. The aphorisms hold: being present, relishing the moment, slowing, rather than marking time — it all helps. But inside, a second skin is twisting against rope. Tightly bound, it is burning.
* * *
They are going to tell you medicate her, if you can’t learn to make her keep still.
* * *
Motherhood is an overlay, sheer and clinging. It obfuscates appearance, makes pre-child passions opaque, but it does not alter what lies beneath. What I cherish about my daughter is what I would’ve cherished, had I never become her mother: her boldness; her mercurial heights and depths; the scent of her freshly bathed skin; my nose in her parted hair.
I am still me underneath.
But motherhood cannot be peeled away. It wraps around, becomes a top-lying dermis and, over time, we are meant to forget its artifice. At times, the urge to lift it away from the skin begins to pressurize. There is too little air; there are too few opportunities for new breath.
Here is the truth that helps, that slices through this whaleskin and lets in a slip of light: children are not so life-changing. They are like many other things and persons adults acquire and decide they cannot live well without. Their needs are not so different: tenderness and tending. They are complicated bliss. They are blessing and barnacle.
But they are not all we are.
* * *
Maybe you, and your missed days of prenatal vitamin intake, lie at the root of this behavior, this delay. Maybe you need to be reminded, during your every resting, writing moment, of what you need to do.
* * *
It is best to pretend that I do not need silence, that nothing essential is eroding inside me without it. I smile in pinched ways that I hope my child and others understand. I am here. I find this enjoyable. No, there is nothing behind my eyes that is stricken with panic and wanting to run. If you see this, you are imagining it.
The first two parts are not lies. I am here. I do find this enjoyable. But I am also acting. This is a Method performance: I am always in character, always awaiting the time when it will be apropos to step out.
There are reasons: my only-childhood and its resulting inexperience with children; my summer transience, three months of each year spent hundreds of miles apart from home; the far-reaching tentacles of too much free and isolated time. And I am also too accustomed to things ending, especially the things someone I love has insisted never would.
* * *
You need to learn to do more. This — working, bathing, clothing, preparing foods, feeding, reading, entertaining, coming straight home, rarely asking for non-work time to yourself — is not enough.
* * *
A lifetime spent holding a part of yourself in reserve does not resolve with the birth of a child. We mothers are still entitled to unknowable parts, if we want them. We protect them by snatching time. Demanding it. Allowing ourselves to love someone other than our children — with ardor, not apology. Reading books that are not written on boards or filled with crude drawings of talking cows. Letting something extracurricular lapse. Listening to ourselves — and making sure that what we are saying isn’t always about mothering. Everyone is talking to us about being a mother; the irony is: we only get great at it by holding onto what we loved about ourselves before becoming one.
Mothering isn’t selfless. Quite the opposite.
* * *
I did everything myself, so no one had the right to criticize my parenting.
* * *
If you are an introvert, you will be reluctant to go out and away; you are happiest at home. But what you need now is counter-intuitive. Instinct says to envelop the child, make her as essential to your happiness as being alone has always been. This is a flawed approach. If you must be incrementally alone to feel whole, then you must find ways to be alone.
It does not matter if you will be harshly criticized; that is all the more reason to leave. Aloneness allows you to quiet even the cruelest critics. In silence, you must take hold of yourself, unbind the ropes and tend to the burning skin, the ancient skin, that which was with you before you were born. You cannot let it fester; it will bleed into your mothering. Something will always be pulling apart.
Mother, you must protect yourself. It was you that you watched for at the window. You are the only Cavalry coming.
15 responses to “Resisting Motherhood.”
This is so poignant and real.
No one warned me about the peeling of motherhood: selfless, then selfish again. Motherhood layers heroics and self-preservation (wounded, i have snatched breasts as quickly as I have offered them).
Thank you for sharing this. Motherhood is such an iceberg experience. Only the peaks and the outermost parts are openly discussed. The rest is so hidden. I wasn’t prepared for the peeling, either.
Still new at this and still feel (a) guilty for enjoying time when I’m not with him and (b) as if I’m not a mom but just a long-term caretaker. I’ve always loved babies and wanted to be a mom, but I didn’t think the label would feel so foreign and inauthentic.
That’s it *exactly.* I think, for me, this has been the most unexpected thing about mothering so far.
I shared this on Facebook. I loved “blessing and barnacle.” I think some of my friends who are mothers will really love this essay too.
Thank you! I really appreciate the share. 🙂
Ah Motherhood. She is grown now and all the books said I didn’t do anything right but when I look at the person she is I know I did everything right,
I have much to say, and kudos to your bravery…
[…] “Motherhood cannot be peeled away.” […]
I love the points in this article. It is beautifully written and poignant. What I don’t love is that it is about “motherhood.” I would hazard to guess that my cisgender male partner relates far more strongly to the feelings and experiences of this woman than I, the birth parent, do. Why, oh why is society absolutely obsessed with the assumption that these feelings are unique to women? And I don’t even mean society’s adamant erasure of transgender birth parents like myself. These feelings are just as likely to be had by ANY birth or non birth parents: male, female, biological, adoptive, etc. It should be called “Resisting Parenthood.”
Thanks for reading, and thank you for your perspective. Occasionally, I field complaints here about my pronoun usage or focus on women and motherhood. And I’m always a but perplexed about it, considering that I’m writing personal essays about my own experiences.
Though every writer hopes his or her is resonant with readers from diverse and varied experiences (and I’m honored to know that your partner would relate), writing the self has always meant telling my portion of a much larger story.
If your cisgender male partner would like to write “Resisting Parenthood,”
I would love to read it. If you’d like to give voice to your own experience as a transgender birth parent, I’d devour that reading, as well.
But to police my work and presume to rename it, accusing me of erasure because, in writing my own experiences as a mother, you don’t see enough of yourself, is to derail my truth in order to assert your own.
I believe that you will heal wounds with this: others who needed this piece of writing, will flock, will curtsy, and thank you in silence. They will smile at their tomorrows knowing these words uplifted them in the throws of their sorrow. “You are writing for the cosmos, girl.” -K.L. Moore
Stacia, this piece is stunning! And so honest. I especially liked this line:
“Everyone is talking to us about being a mother; the irony is: we only get great at it by holding onto what we loved about ourselves before becoming one.”
I’m reading this at 4 in the morning, my loneliest, peeled back time, this is such spectacular writing, you have a gift and I thank you for it.
Kirsten, hang in there. Nights can be so difficult. I empathize and wish you happier nights in the future.
Thank you for the compliment. I’m honored. And tgank you for reading.