Thursday, March 11, 2010

Grown-Up Mommy

So it turns out there's a big difference between [me] being a 24-year-old mother of one son and being a 30-year-old mother of three sons. That may seem obvious...I just keep pondering its immensity with every changed diaper, sleepless night, and broken-up brother fight.

I've watched some parents take first-childhood in great stride. I wasn't one of those parents. I had Isaac and it nearly broke me, mentally. It's amazing to me now, because I loved him so much then and can't imagine life without him now. But, love or no love, it was very hard for me to become a mother. Almost immediately after having Isaac I felt chained down--or maybe chained to is a better word. Isaac was an intense little baby, but more obtrusively, I was an intense mother. I didn't know what I was doing, and that terrified me. I, who was so defined by my brains and my looks (God help me, that sounds so arrogant) was suddenly defined primarily by my relationship to this beautiful, utterly dependent baby boy. I couldn't breastfeed him, couldn't keep him from crying, couldn't take him out with being terrified he would shriek and people would think I was a bad mother. I was utterly responsible for this child and felt that someone would come at any point and say, "No really, you just can't handle this." I look at pictures of Isaac and I from that time period and, while appreciating my beautiful baby, am so thankful to not have to relive those days. Strange, isn't it?

When Isaac was nine months old, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression--initially the diagnosis was devastating, just another bit of proof that I was a failure at what I should naturally be able to do. Being a grad student, I took that diagnosis and incorporated into a paper I had to write for a counselling course. One of the most insightful things I read came from a book borrowed from the UBC medical library, where the author posited the theory that postpartum depression is, at root, a woman's mourning of what she has lost.

You lose things when you have a baby. You gain things, of course--and we hasten, appropriately, to remember and emphasize the blessings gained. But I lost my independence, and lost my identity which centred, I found, mostly on my ability to be articulate and interesting in academic circles. That didn't have much to do with changing, feeding, and carrying my son. Making "mommy" my primary identity was a mental move I wasn't ready to make. And compounding the difficulty, I couldn't voice in most circles that I hated to be a mom, that I wanted very badly to just be a carefree, newly married grad student.

One day, while in Idaho visiting my sister, I went to see a mentor of mine at NNU. And as we were talking, I voiced to her what I had such difficulty saying to others: "I love my son, but I hate being a mom." She replied, without hesitation, "I totally understand." What a relief to know I could feel that way, and that other people did too.

I don't know when it happened, but at some point, thankfully, that feeling changed. It was gradual, like all these things are, and aided largely by a grad class I took in fall 2005 on Women's Faith and Development. That class gave me space and time to process the massive changes I was undergoing, and to incorporate "Mommy" into my identity. I finished that class in December of 2005, and in February of 2006 had my second son, Finnian.

The difference between Finn's post-partum days and Isaac's was like night and day. I was no longer terrified of having someone utterly dependent on me. Breastfeeding went well. I carried Finn everywhere and loved it, and treasured the times I had with Isaac too. I was mommy--and it was good.

Ephraim's birth was four years, almost to the day, after Finn's. I lost two babies in miscarriage between their births, and their loss added a poignancy to these little, ordinary moments of baby life with my son: I nurse Ephraim, and am thankful. I hold him close, and remember the times I ached to see moms with babies after I had lost mine. I change him, carry him in one arm while cooking, cleaning, and caring for the boys, look at his little face and give thanks to God. The sleepless nights are hard, but I have some perspective on it--they will end, and faster than I can even imagine Ephraim will be, like my Isaac and Finn now, building forts, pretending to be Luke Skywalker, and off to school. The grown-ups in my life always told me to treasure every moment, and now I feel I've joined their ranks. I'm a mommy, a grown-up mommy of three sons, and by the grace of God I'm glad to be.

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