I put the baby down in her seat on the other side of the bathroom door, and she wailed and screamed, wailed and screamed. I remember thinking: What has happened to me. Too exhausted to even put a question mark at the end of that thought. I had just come home from the hospital after giving birth to my first child.
I stood in the shower, looked down and did not recognize my body. It was not just that it did not look like me; it didn’t look like any human person I had seen before. I could not make sense of the shape my body made. Milk ran down my belly and blood ran down my thighs, and through the door, the baby wailed and screamed because I had put her down. What had happened to me.
Now several of my 10 children are adults, and I still don’t know exactly what has happened to me.
Several years ago, fitness guru Jillian Michaels caused a minor spasm in mommy media by saying she would never get pregnant because she could not face ruining her body that way. It eventually emerged that she had not said that, exactly, and her thoughts about pregnancy and her body were more complex and personal than an inflammatory soundbite. But regardless of the details, she had expressed something more honestly than many women are willing to do: She knew that giving birth would disrupt something about herself irrevocably, and it was not a disruption she was willing to endure. Better to find this out about yourself before you get pregnant than after, I thought.
Here is what I have learned since then: Surrendering bodily vanity is only the beginning of what happens to you when you become a mother. First, motherhood turns you into a fountain that flows and flows. Then it shows you that you will run out.
Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.
5 thoughts on “Motherhood turns you into a fountain that flows and flows. Then it shows you that you will run out.”
This made me tear up a bit.
Motherhood is almost ridiculous.
Yes, in a way it is harder psychologically when the kids are teens and adults. I don’t think they can grasp what has been done for them until they themselves pass through the fire of parenthood. My kids laugh at me when I tell them that in a way, parenthood is like having to be God, but not God in heaven–God who gives and loves (almost ridiculously) but still gets a door slammed in the face, and maybe a period of resentment for some trivial thing that didn’t go their way.
I think that we get a special dose of *something* to get us through the merry-go-round of diapers and nursing and work to be done when we are sleep deprived. I miss that little something–it is unique to that stage of life–pure grace with a bunch of oxytocin. My oldest son just gave me a gift of CBD gummies, and my husband made me a great fresh squeezed tangerine margarita on Sunday night, but it just doesn’t compare.
Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure how to reclaim my life, but I’m reading and painting more, and enjoy earning some money on the side to help make life a little more celebratory. (Cheers to you!)
Right after I read what you wrote, I thought about the sheer devastation of mothers that give and give and give to the brink of self annihilation, only to have their spouse or children act like they don’t really matter anymore. This must be the ultimate test of faith.
And because I don’t want to end on a sad note, I will recount a REAL conversation I overheard from one of my sons last weekend who just moved from SF to Oakland. (He lives in a fabulous new building with rent deals because of Covid.)
“Yeah, I met this girl at the jacuzzi that supports herself on Only Fans. She has a naked cooking show, and asked me to cook with her.”
We named that son after St. Maximilian Kolbe. I was reading his life story when I discovered I was pregnant with him. His birth announcement stated, “love without limits”.
I’m so glad a crystal ball doesn’t come with the placenta.
I’m getting a real river runs thru it vibe from this piece.
“So it is that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed.”
“Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.
“Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fisherman in western Montana, where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
Beautiful article! Yesterday I came across a story on the crazy early days of motherhood, “Unending” by Croatian writer Maša Kolanović, and then, right after, I saw your article in America Magazine. I felt there was some interesting connections to be made there…
I have said to my husband over and over “This is motherhood I do not know how to do”. Mothering newborns, infants, toddlers, hell, even teens, felt natural. Innate. I don’t remember feeling clumsy. I was never “unneeded”. This adult children thing looks, smells and feels completely foreign and I am railing against it, to my surprise. There is solace in knowing I’m not the only one. Thank you.
I enjoyed reading this yesterday in America. It is so beautiful and full of truth!