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Motherhood: A Life Unexpected

Being a mother is never something I imagined for myself. Inside all the things I’ve dreamed of becoming in my life (a veterinarian, a marine biologist, a poet, a nurse, a therapist, an author), mother was never among them. When I made the decisionĀ a few years ago that I did, in fact, want a baby it was a tenuous one, born out of a love for my husband that overtook me in an unexpected way.

(Mother’s Day 2010)

I’d never loved anyone like I love Greg. When I fell in love with him it was surprising and swift and immediate and I wanted so, so much more from it than I’d ever wanted from love before. I wanted an endless future with him. I wanted to call him something more than boyfriend, which is all I’d ever called the other boys I’d loved. And I also had the deepest, simplest urge to create something with him that was made from us.

We stopped trying to be careful two months after we were married, and Vera was conceived out of that very first time. But the waterfall of changes that occurred as a result of pregnancy were just as swift and immediate as the way we’d fallen in love. Motherhood suddenly loomed, bigger and stranger than I’d ever imagined. In fact, I hadn’t ever imagined it really. I’d only thought about me and Greg and what we were together, wanting something more from that, but not quite realizing what.

Three years later and I am constantly surprised to find myself making preschool lunches and applying Elmo bandaids to scraped, little knees. The incongruence I feel when I find myself pushing a stroller to the playground or bargaining with my fussy toddler as I try to get the grocery shopping done is startling.

That’s not to say I don’t love her. I do, I do. And I love her in that same deep way in which I fell in love with Greg, helplessly and utterly.

(Mother’s Day 2011)

It’s just that in rare moments these days when I find myself alone with time to think (usually in the car or on an airplane), my thoughts are a jumble of who I thought I was going to be compared to the pressing vision of my daily life. Last night driving home from a friend’s house I couldn’t stop the images of myself in other roles: traveling abroad, teaching, researching, hosting, connecting. All things that are surely still to come, if I want them to. And if only I can remember to peek my head above the life in front of me. The one in which I dream daily of owning a home, of a second car, of a nursery for our new baby or of the swirling calendar of toddler birthday parties and playdates.

All last summer Greg and I went back and forth about whether or not we wanted to have a second child. We simply couldn’t decide. There were a hundred reasons on each side and for those first long, warm months of our new life here in California we debated endlessly. In September there was just one time when we weren’t careful, and a few weeks later we realized the decision had been made for us.

I’ll never know why some of my friends struggle for years to become pregnant, enduring loss and heartbreak and the utter rebuilding of futures imagined. And why I myself, a woman so unsure of motherhood in the first place, has so easily entered into it. Some will say it was meant to be, but of that I’m not so sure. These days I struggle to make sense of the idea of destiny versus free will, of creating the lives we want, opposed to the lives we were always going to live.

But I do know this: I know that motherhood has made me into a woman more complex and layered than I’d ever imagined. I know that the woman I have become in the last three years has only made me even more capable of being all those things I always dreamed of being. I know that my dreams are even richer and deeper and more daring, because the world is that way too, and being a mother has taught me so.

Read more about how motherhood affected my marriage in the new anthology Wedding Cake for Breakfast

Finding My Mother Again, an essay I wrote for Salon.com

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5 Comments

  1. Wonderful Mother’s Day piece. I awakened this a.m. and thoughts led me to the idea of a sacred wound. My life is my material, and my writing stems from that: the deepness, the surfing opaque waves of self. Your essay was profound. Having read you, I don’t know you, but I now am a reader “out there” who cares for your well being and of course, that of many others. Putting pen to paper and revealing oneself is no small task. Some days I feel like raw meat on a hook in a factory in Chicago, where I just drip and drip.

    My point is in this brief, humble comment to you, I think the love such as you have, and I have my own, is very healing. Because I am older, I can view life as an unfolding scroll. Yesterday’s Mother’s Day was wonderful to me, because my rebel son of years ago, and his wonderful wife, within whom threads of beauty twine, and a long-time friend and my husband, got together for dinner out and then spent time on the tales of yesteryear which were very funny. My marriage has soothed the raw, jagged edges of condemnation from childhood times. I am 73, and my early years were for survival on some levells, and now I am in a state of thrives which is fantastic, teaching writing, writing, having a glorious time being nonfamous, but widening my circles. I think you will achieve wonderful things, and I am so happy that you have what you have.

    Comment by Esther Bradley-DeTally on May 14, 2012 at 10:13 am

  2. Tears, chills, I experienced them both while reading this post! You know that I felt the same way as you did, and was shocked to find out I was pregnant in late 2010. After 10 years of marriage I STILL didn’t feel ready, as much as I love my husband. In fact, we had gone back and forth on the issue for so, so long and I had just decided I didn’t want kids (hurts to say that now). After three years of taking risks and being lucky, I was pregnant within a week of that decision. Although I have to admit I was terrified/mad/upset/regretful way back then, I know now that it had to be fate. Throughout the beginning of my pregnancy I was so scared that I would somehow lose myself in motherhood and forget all of the things I’ve wanted for myself. Like you, I’ve seen myself as so many thing throughout the years — actress, writer, author, publicist, wife — but “mom” was never one of them. I made a vow that I would not become what I call a “mommy and me” and I feel more secure in myself today than I ever did. I know that I owe it to my daughter (who I could not imagine living without now) to stay who I’ve always been and keep dreaming.

    Thanks so much for this post – as beautiful and thought-provoking as always! :)

    Comment by Liz on May 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm

  3. This was just the most beautiful comment, Esther. I’m so glad that Mother’s Day was such a nice one for you.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on May 15, 2012 at 9:46 am

  4. Loved this validating response, Liz. When are we ever going to meet in person??

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on May 15, 2012 at 9:47 am

  5. I don’t know, I’m still trying to get back to LA. :( My husband is supposed to be starting a new construction gig there in June (waiting for the call from his old boss), so we WILL get there soon. We’re aiming for the end of this month now. And we’re never leaving again. I really, really mean it this time. We’ll definitely have to get together, and I’ll have some baby clothes for you if you have another girl. :)

    Comment by Liz on May 15, 2012 at 9:35 pm

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