To say that there is nothing than can prepare you for the shock of becoming a parent is putting it mildly. What a shock it is. You can read all of the books you want, make charts and diagrams for this, that and the other thing, you can research everything from birth to potty training until the cows come home. But I've discovered that, for me at least, parenting is not so much in these details, in the preparedness or in the doing, but rather it is a crash-course in the feeling. You can know that skydiving is a scary endeavour, but you can't know what that scary feels like until your ass is plummeting through the sky.
Becoming a parent is like cutting off your limbs and trying to grow them again, in a weird way that makes them only half yours. Or razing a house to the ground and rebuilding with new materials, like Extreme Makeover Home Edition, only the end result is much less grandiose. It is simultaneously elating and depressing; joy and wonder at the new beings we've had a hand in creating, and sadness, even resentment at the seepage of our own selves, the hazing and blurring of our identity as individuals.
As a bit of an aside, I think it's crazy that we treat post-partum depression like it's an anomaly, something purely hormonal, something that people can/should just "get over". I think that in the face of the magnitude of changes to our physical and emotional selves and the incredible disruption to our lives, experiencing various forms and severities of depression and/or anxieties post partum, though undoubtably unpleasant, makes a whole world of sense. But I digress.
My life, previously attuned to my own well-being and best interests, is no longer my own. My time, previously devoted to my own projects and needs, has become someone elses. I struggle to scrape together moments of solitude, write snippets and thoughts and memories of self on scraps of construction paper and kitchen chalkboards, beside grocery and to-do lists. The mundane necessity of keeping chaos at bay, dishes clean, babies fed, toddlers and pre-schoolers amused, soothed and loved is an endless, and often unforgiving, pursuit- one that more often than not, I seem to fail at.
I teeter between anxiety and pride about my small charges, who are at once so fragile and so unflinchingly fearless. There are so many things to protect my children from in any given day, not the least of which is myself -- my own baggage, childhood and knee jerk emotional reflexes. These reflexes too, have to be swallowed, thought about, revisited, smoothed over.
I have had my absolute best, and proudest moments as a mama. I have also been taken to my rock bottom lowest as a mama. The pendulum seems to swing back and forth between these highs and lows so often. Motherhood has made me turn myself inside out and pull out my stuffing. I'm restuffing bit by bit, and learning so much about myself in the process. What a crazy, amazing, horrible, dark, scary, wonderful, exciting ride. I have never felt so responsible, so fierce, so protective, so loving, so angry, so helpless, so grateful, so raw. And we musn't forget so tired.
I've just started reading this really lovely anthology on mothering, edited by Eden Steinberg. In her introduction, Steinberg writes:
"I realized that if I was going to survive this thing, I was going to have to grow and change. . . I also saw that I was ultimately going to have to let go of my very self-concept, my idea of motherhood, and my expectations of my child. All of it had to go. . . . I thought that as a mother I would carefully mold and shape my children. If I did my job right, my children would turn out to be well-adjusted, loving, thoughtful and interesting people. As it turns out, motherhood is molding and shaping me. At the end of all this, I am the one who could end up well-adjusted, loving, thoughtful and interesting." (xv, 2007).
I couldn't have said it better if I tried.