Today is the three year anniversary of Mom’s death from multiple system atrophy. Reading the words I wrote 2 and 3 years ago brings back a fresh ache in my gut as I think about my mom. This ache is amplified and fresh in new ways because three months ago, I gave birth to a wild and amazing daughter of my own, less than a year after moving to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of becoming an actress- a dream I found the courage to pursue after Mom died, as I sorted through my grief.
But the cycle of life has felt especially vivid to me these past months. Becoming Mommy myself makes me miss my own mommy. There are things I get now about how she may have felt that I could never fully grasp before. And frankly, there are a lot of aspects of new Mommyhood that bewilder, intimidate and frustrate me, and well, it sucks not to have the person around who I would most like to discuss them with! In no particular order, these things include:
I had gotten very comfortable with the control and flexibility I’ve had over my own time and space the past few years. That control has been completely usurped. Oddly, my three-month-old daughter does not respond to efforts at reasoning with her about why Mommy needs an extra hour (or ten) of sleep, or just time to take a shower, or eat, or poop. I know this is news to the world, but self-care is a challenge with a young baby!
This is the first fully irreversible decision I’ve ever made. As someone who has always been a commitment-phobe, it’s a little nerve-wracking to realize this. It’s a sense of responsibility unlike I’ve ever felt, even as a doctor, and frankly, makes me feel more “adult” (ew) than ever before. And for that reason, I kind of don’t like it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I accept it. But I didn’t realize how deeply responsible I’d feel for this little ball of flesh, and the Peter Pan in me is freaked out!
In terms of the depths of that responsibility, have you ever seen how 100% helpless a newborn baby is? You put her on the floor and she just slowly wiggles her little limbs and sort of bleats out pitifully. It’s a little better now that’s she’s older, but not much. And any time I think about that, it just takes my breath away. She is totally dependent on Jarred and me, which is both beautiful and beyond scary. I can’t even joke about it because thinking about the million absurd ways she could be hurt makes me want to vomit.
At the same time, my own life, and Jarred’s, suddenly seem much more significant. And by that I mean, as a free spirit who has always enjoyed taking risks and living out loud, I feel a new hesitation to mess up. I don’t want my daughter to grow up without a mother or suffering from mistakes I could make. And I want to be there to see her grow up for as long as possible. This has caused a new, more serious, reflection on my own mortality and wellness. Don’t worry, I still plan to live out loud and take risks, because I want her to do the same, but we’ll all just have to wait and see how that pans out.
I also feel more horrified at the world around us, and want to go out there and change the world and make it better for her! Today! Right now! Climate change, and police brutality, racism and sexism and poverty and antibiotic resistance and the complete loss of pop music with any semblance of listenability! I want to fix it all! Buuut, I can’t right now because my baby is crying and I have to go feed her.
There are numerous smaller freak-out moments too: Is that another new wrinkle on my forehead? Why hasn’t my body gone back to normal yet? Look at my cute pre-pregnancy waist! Ugh, will my boobs EVER be normal again? All my joints ache from bouncing this adorable 10 lb weight on a yoga ball for hours every day. Is it normal for a baby to scream this much? Why is she being so quiet now!? Is she breathing? How come she looks so much like her father? Will I be a good mother? God, I wish she didn’t always want me more than anyone else. Crap, she seems happier with someone else!
Jarred recently noted that he didn’t realize having a baby would exacerbate my underlying anxiety/overanalysis tendancies. Hahaha. Silly husband. *As a sidenote, to new moms out there who are feeling a similar sense of ambivalence, as you simultaneously want to reabsorb your new baby back into your body because you adore her so much and want to protect her, and at the same time want to throw her into a loving someone else’s arms while you run out the door with your purse and a toothbrush yelling “I’ll be back in a week… probably,” there’s a great Ted talk about becoming a mom and the push and pull of new motherhood. Check it out here.
I have a lot I hope to accomplish with my work (as a doctor and as an artist). So I have all this motivation… buuuut I’m exhausted, we don’t have childcare in place yet, and I don’t have a typical 9-5 job these days (see above re: pursuing acting). So this means I have to have patience, and I’ve just never been very patient with my own goals, so in addition to the thoughts above that swirl around, I sometimes feel DEEP frustration. Times when my mood just crashes down. It happened when I cared for Mom too sometimes. It’s a version of caregiver burnout. I know what it is. I think all parent feel it at times. The lack of control and the exhaustion. It SUCKS.
So, I find myself asking friends with kids if/when it gets better. Then I find myself not reassured when about half of them say yes and half of them say no - that it never really gets easier, but it does change. And then promise me that it’s worth it.
Which brings me back to my mom. I realized, I keep asking others this question because the person I most want to talk to about all this is my own mom. The woman who told me she never was a “baby person,” but who raised me with such immense love, through some very difficult circumstances. I want to ask her, When did you start to feel like yourself again? When did it start to be more fun than exhaustion and work? (When) did it get easier? Or was it always hard just in new ways? And yeah, was it worth it? I know how much my mom loved me. I know because she showed me unwaveringly for my entire life, and she told me many times, and because I loved her immensely. So I find myself leaning on that certainty to reassure myself through my doubts and fears.
Is it worth it? I know that it is because my mom was my Person my whole life. At her memorial, I said she was the water to my fish. And I know that I was her best friend, because she told me, even through those rough teenage years. Is it worth it? I know it is, because in the week before she died, when she could hardly talk and we knew the end was close, one morning as I sat by her bed, she managed to get out the words, “I’m. Sorry.” I hated to hear it then, but now that I’m a mother, even just of three months, I understand it more deeply. I think she hated to leave me as much as I hated to lose her, maybe even more. I think she wanted to discover and learn and laugh and cry even more together, and to see me grow old. I think this because I already feel it about my daughter.
Is it worth it? I have learned that having a child brings out a parent’s strength. I saw the fierceness on my mom’s face in photographs with me and at the time, I didn’t get it. I wanted her to smile. But sometimes a parent just feels that animal instinct of protection, and it’s not light and fluffy and fun, it is raw and powerful and magnificent. I know this because I have found myself feeling it already. It’s the same feeling that makes me want to be there for this child always.
Is it worth it? Yes. Because there are the good moments, even now, even through the chaotic haze and the fear. Like when my daughter is snuggled in my arms, her fluffy hair tickling my chin. Her hair is so soft, and unexpectedly strawberry blonde, sticking up erratically in a combination mohawk/mullet arrangement. It makes us laugh, and when I feel it as she is pressed against me sleeping, I get a deeply peaceful warmth in my chest.
Or like last night, when she was crying and we were trying to calm her. I finally stumbled on the right combination of soothing efforts, and she looked up at me with huge blue eyes, her little hand reaching up toward my face for the first time ever. Earlier that day I had hit that wall of frustration previously described, so her look of complete trust and love as she reached for ME brought achingly wonderful tears to my eyes. And I can’t forget to mention the smiles and giggles and the silly wiggles of her tiny body as it experiments with how to control itself.
Is it worth it? I know already that having a child is some serious, deep magic. And while I question my abilities periodically when I hit those low points, deep inside I know that I am and will be a good mother. Because I learned from the best. And I know that if she saw me as a mom, she would have been so. Damn. Proud. I just hope that someday (eventually), my daughter will be proud too.
P.S. I have to thank my husband for caring for and holding the baby for hours today so I could take the time to think about and write this piece. Love you.