Maternal

This is within the first hour of Grace’s life. I am bewildered.

That my article on The Huffington Post, 10 Things I Want my 10 Year Old Daughter to Know, resonated with readers was immensely, heart-fillingly gratifying.  I am hugely honored and deeply humbled.  I was buoyed all last week and weekend by the knowledge that my words – the deepest wishes of my mother heart, at this particular point in my daughter’s life – had burrowed into the thoughts and feelings of even perfect strangers.

And the comments on the piece blew me away.  I realized there are things in that piece I passionately wish I’d said differently.  Many of the comments were kind, and I cried as I read them, sad for the people who said they wished they’d had parents who had spoken to them like this and deeply touched by people who told me I was a good mother.

See, the thing is, I was never really thought of myself as a mother.  Early on in our childhood, my sister and I took on roles within our family.  I’m not sure exactly how this “taking on’ occurred, because I am certain it was subconscious on the part of all involved.  But as stories and beliefs about a child sink into family lore they likewise seem to saturate our very cells.  I was not particularly maternal, it seemed.  I never babysat.  I wasn’t very interested in dolls.  I had literally never changed a diaper until I changed Grace’s.  The fact that I adored being a camp counselor belies the assertion that I wasn’t especially interested in children, though it’s true my charges were teenagers and not in fact that much younger than I was.

An endocrine specialist told me when I was 23 that I would never get pregnant without significant intervention.  I remember that last experience vividly: I walked away from the appointment feeling grateful to finally understand what was going on with my body, but also with a chilling sense of an emotional instinct being confirmed by my physical body.  I wasn’t focused on being a mother, and now it seemed that my body didn’t know if it ever wanted to be one anyway.

And then I got into business school and at age 24 threw myself headlong over the cliff towards the world of Career.  It’s not that I didn’t want kids, not at all.  I did always assume I would have children, but truthfully I never thought very much about it.  I never defined myself through the future children I would have, never planned for that life.

And then.

Those 2 lines on February 15, 2002 changed everything.  They blew a hole through that endocrinologist’s certainty that I’d never get pregnant on my own, for one thing.  But they also indicated that I’d stumbled onto a new path, one that would meander through dark cul de sacs and swamps before eventually coming out into a light so bright and vivid I still find myself blinking into it, like Plato coming out of his cave.

My embrace of motherhood was not immediate.  Oh, no.  In fact my put-aside memoir was mostly about that, about the slow and treacherous passage from the moment I delivered my daughter myself to falling in love with her as I’d been told I would.

And yet here I am, a mother almost 10 years, and it is absolutely, undeniably true that this is the central role of my life.  (I feel the need to acknowledge that I am both aware of and grateful for my good fortune in conceiving and bearing healthy children).  I have been changed in countless, indelible ways by becoming a mother.  One essential one is not a change so much as a return, to the page, to writing, to something I had forgotten I needed.  My subject chose me, I recently observed, and while that subject is not specifically “motherhood” it certainly arrived on the backs of my blue- and brown-eyed children, announced itself slowly but insistently as their lives unfurled with dizzying speed in front of me.

The truth is that I feel like a fraud, sometimes, like I’m not a “natural” mother, both because my entry into this role was so fraught and because for so long I was not one of those women whose whole self was oriented towards eventual motherhood.  I suspect this is why the supportive Huffington Post comments meant so hugely much to me, because there I still contain a reservoir of insecurity about my mothering, my motherhood.  I actually believe that many mothers share this deep rooted uncertainty and anxiety, for a host of reasons not necessarily the same as mine.

I have written before, and continue to believe, that most of our suffering in this life comes from our attachment to the way we thought it was going to be.   My experience growing into the role of mother, an identity I hadn’t thought much about that has nevertheless come to define my sense of myself, shows me that letting go of those attachments can both relieve suffering and show us great, unexpected joy.  Let’s keep letting go of how we thought it was going to be.  Who knows what startling joys and surprises lie ahead.

 


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11 Comments

  1. Posted June 11, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I love this piece, Lindsey. There is so much I relate to in it. I, too, have never felt particularly maternal: I never babysat, changed a diaper, or ever much enjoyed the company of other children even when I WAS a child (classic old soul syndrome, I think). I’ve spent much of Abra’s very young life feeling awkward in my role, and it’s just recently that I’m starting to feel a little competent. Like I’m finding my “voice” as a mother — and a human — and starting to enjoy the ride some. I, too, firmly believe that most of our suffering stems from holding on to some outmoded belief about what our lives hold, and what we think will make us happy (we are often terrible judges of this), a realization that I’m just beginning to live in the most tentative of ways.

  2. Posted June 11, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    P.S.: Both our of journeys that have led us to this point, while very different, began in 2002. It was the year my mom died, which set me on the path on I’m now, a path I never could have predicted for myself 10 years ago.

  3. Amy
    Posted June 11, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I love these last two sentences. So beautiful Let’s keep letting go of how we thought it was going to be. Who knows what startling joys and surprises lie ahead.

  4. Posted June 11, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Oh, I hear you, and I agree with you and Elizabeth above. What a head trip motherhood is! A job where you’re expected to be good at it immediately–really good–and love it and be consumed by it, from the very first moment?
    I found my stride as a mother about six months after my second one was born. And am still finding it.
    I am letting go. I’m embracing what it is–full, joyous, and incredibly hard.

  5. Posted June 11, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, I love how vulnerable you are in your writing. I always knew I wanted to be a Mom. It was the only thing I wanted to be. It’s only been recently that I realized how much writing means to me…and that, in addition to being a Mom when I grow up, I also want to be a writer. It’s been cool to put myself back on the map after giving so much of myself in my role as Mom for over a decade. Thanks for another beautiful post.

  6. Posted June 11, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Lindsey,
    This post brings me to tears even more than your original Huffington Post essay.

    What a journey you’ve been on. Becoming a mother is such a complicated journey, so more complicated than any of us really know when we start it.

    You explain that so beautifully.
    Linda

  7. Posted June 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I love and resonate with what you’ve written here so much. Thank you for putting words to all of it! xo

  8. Kristen
    Posted June 11, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    This was a wonderful post. Thank you.

  9. Posted June 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Somehow I missed you on Huffington Post (HUGE congrats!), but am glad I ended up reading both pieces side by side. I do love the way you articulate challenges with such grace that they seem to transform into blessings in your hands. A rare and special gift. May you never doubt your mothering, your loving, or your gorgeous writing.

  10. Posted June 11, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    How did I not know you were in the Huffington Post? I am going there pronto. It’s funny what a natural mother you seem to me and have always seemed to me in your writing, which reflects your most true self. And, I so admire your faith! This was beautiful, and right now, I so need to hear that I must let go to how I thought it would be. Thank you!!

  11. Posted June 13, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    I can certainly identify with not growing up feeling maternal. I, too, felt this way. I never baby-sat and the first diaper I changed was my first-born’s. Although, I did know I was going to have children. I always knew it. I knew I wanted to experience that kind of relationship in my life. Life was too short, and too long not to.

    I don’t know if most of life’s sufferings come from unfufilled expectations, although certainly there is some of that, particularly with each passing age. That’s not my story, though.

    Most of my suffering comes from worry and anxiety. Those things are rooted in fear, mostly of the future, not of what is now. If I look around me, if I pat attention and remain present, now is perfect. The minute I let my mind go to another time, that’s when the suffereing begins.

    But you already know that. ;-)

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  1. […] Maternal- “I have written before, and continue to believe, that most of our suffering in this life comes from our attachment to the way we thought it was going to be. My experience growing into the role of mother, an identity I hadn’t thought much about that has nevertheless come to define my sense of myself, shows me that letting go of those attachments can both relieve suffering and show us great, unexpected joy. Let’s keep letting go of how we thought it was going to be. Who knows what startling joys and surprises lie ahead.” […]