Wednesday, May 2, 2012

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My Other Birth

We mothers and women always want to hear birth stories. Maybe not the nitty gritty details but definitely the basics: home or hospital, c-section or vaginal, natural or medicated. I've told you both my birth stories on here and you can find Cati's here and Elina's here. There is, however, one birth that I never told you about and one that is often overlooked and left out when someone asks, "what is your birth story?" The birth I'm talking about is my own birth as a mother.

One assumes, or at least I did, that motherhood would come naturally and that I would instantly feel that overwhelming love for my child. That wasn't the case and it took me a long time to come to terms with that and to realize that it is normal not to love motherhood from the second your child is placed in your arms.

Cati is my first child and the person who made me a mother. So much of how I defined myself as a mother was wrapped up in my experience of mothering her. She was not an easy baby and her birth was a traumatic experience for me. To be completely honest, becoming a mother was traumatic. I don't mean that negatively but there isn't another word I can think of that conveys how immeasurably your life changes when you have a child. Everything you know about the world changes with that first breath of life. One day you are capable of sleeping through the night without a worry and the next day you have to learn how to live with your heart permanently living outside of you. Independence is gone and you have to redefine yourself as a person who is also a mother and as a person who is part of a parenting unit. All your relationships change and suddenly your once carefree attitude is morphed into a person consumed by worry: is the baby eating enough? is it ok if the baby sleeps like that? am I capable of raising a good person? will I be able to give the baby everything she needs? The list goes on. Your life basically turns itself on its head quickly and severely. There is no way to ever prepare for the change because of two big unknowns: 1) your child is a complete stranger  who you need to get to know and 2) you have no clue what type of parent you will be because the type of parent you are is dictated by your child and her temperament.

When I was pregnant with Cati I had a list of things I wanted to do and things I didn't want to do. In my imaginary ideal world where I had a vaginal birth, an easy time with breastfeeding, an easy going baby, and a functional relationship with my mother, being a mother was an easy byproduct of having the "perfect" child. Two days of contractions, a c-section, trouble with breastfeeding that led to exclusive pumping, and the pivotal point of cut-off with my mother slammed me into reality. I expected to be eased into motherhood and to love it from the beginning. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be? Aside from the expectations we put on ourselves, doesn't society also expect that of us? Aren't we supposed to make the transformation from glowing pregnant woman to a mother who exudes happiness and love smoothly? A woman who should be content and fulfilled because her child is healthy?

I didn't feel that way. I felt like I was dumped in the middle of the ocean with no life preserver and no sight of land. I felt overwhelmed and burdened; overwhelmed with love for my child but burdened by the knowledge that I didn't love being a mother. How was it possible to love my child but not what she made me? My love for Cati has always been unconditional, it had to be to endure those first few months when I felt like my world was falling apart. But my love for myself faltered as I tried to understand the new me and my new role that carried along with it the baggage of Fear, Worry, and Doubt. All those years of working on myself, trying to be a better person, and having enough confidence in myself to stand up for myself got buried the minute Cati was born. I was afraid of doing something wrong. I was afraid I would mess up my child permanently. I was afraid I couldn't love enough. I worried that something was wrong with me because I didn't like being a mother. I was worried that feeling inadequate as a mother would make Cati less attached to me. My confidence plummeted because I was doing something new and the stakes were high. We're talking about being responsible for another human being here and everyone has an opinion and those opinions, when you are an insecure first-time mom, strike you to the core. I clammed up and stopped talking about my experience. I avoided other mothers because I didn't want to be told "focus on the positive" or "you won't bond with your baby if she isn't on the breast." I especially didn't want to be told "as long as you have a healthy baby..." because I felt greedy and ungrateful. A healthy baby wasn't enough for me. I needed more.  I was thankful for a healthy baby, don't get me wrong, but in all the focus of having a healthy baby, where was I? I was crumbling and felt like I was failing at something that should have been natural. I was going through the motions and doing what needed to be done to make sure Cati thrived but in all that I spent on her, I never stopped to spend time on myself, to nurture myself and to seek out those who would be willing to be honest and say "I went through that" or "yeah being a mom sucks sometimes" or "this IS normal." So much of what and how I felt was defined by feeling abnormal (there MUST be something wrong with me if I have a healthy child and I still hate being a mom).

Motherhood isn't easy, but you know that and any mother will admit that. What is hard to admit is the fact that sometimes it's hard to like your own children. In those first three months I loved Cati but I didn't like her. I didn't like that she cried all the time. I didn't like that I felt completely alone even when I was with her. I didn't like that I cried with her. I didn't like that she made me feel so weak and vulnerable. I especially didn't like that all her crying made me feel like such a failure. Surely, if I was being a good mother, she wouldn't cry, right?

And so it took me a while to like and then love being a mother. I liken my journey into motherhood to a pregnancy. In my first trimester of motherhood (months 0-3), I was plagued with doubt. I was anxious and wondered if I would ever like being a mother. I remember asking Alex if he thought I had postpartum depression because I felt so different from all the mothers who seemed to have it together. Alex told me I wasn't allowed to speak to other women because he was afraid I would make them not want to have children. To be fair, I was the one who said Cati would be an only child. At least I would I also tell people to give parenthood a try for themselves because their experience might be different from my own. Things turned around in my second trimester of motherhood (months 3-6). Miraculously, once Cati hit 3-months the crying stopped and she turned into a happy baby. Those months saw Cati become more active and interactive. She smiled whenever she saw me and I knew I was her favorite person. By 6 months I liked motherhood. I liked the person and mother I was becoming. I was becoming more confident in and getting better at speaking up for myself. Most importantly, I was starting to feel comfortable in my new skin and found a way to manage all the Fear, Worry, and Doubt. In my last trimester of motherhood (months 6-9) I blossomed. I loved motherhood and I began to understand why people had more than one child. I felt like I won the motherhood lottery, that's how good I felt about myself as a mother. I found my groove and the ever important balance between mothering Cati and mothering myself. At nine months I was born into a person who felt capable of being a good mother and who knew motherhood was worth all the trouble. I was a completely different person at nine months, much like I was a different person after nine months of pregnancy. It took me nine months to grow new people: Cati and me as a mother.  It was a long journey and one that I often wondered if it had any reward beyond a growing, thriving child. Again, I was thankful for a healthy child but there was something in ME that was lacking and needed nurturing. I was finally able to love motherhood when I started to feel good about myself and found a way to manage all the demands of being a mother.

It seems kind of ironic that I started feeling the urge to have another child around the same time that I felt like I needed to be more than "just" a mother. I wanted to feel like I was capable of doing more than changing diapers or being fashionable with food all over my clothes. I applied to grad school when I started dropping hints to Alex. I think it all goes back to regaining my confidence in myself and to finally feeling like I reached that place where I had nurtured myself enough that I felt capable of nurturing another human being.

Elina has a different mother. One more confident in herself and one who thinks "let me hear all your comments and unsolicited advice because I'm ready." I am not caught unawares this time and comments won't cut to the core anymore. I know what I'm doing and I like it. I like who I am and the mother I've become. And if there is one thing Elina has benefited from, it's that I have simplified. My goals aren't so lofty and my expectations won't come crashing down when met with reality. My children gave me the title of mother but it is me who gives it meaning. And right now I'll consider motherhood a success as long as my children know this one thing: you are loved.

Becoming a mother wasn't natural for me. I dreamed about being a mother while pregnant. My experience with my own mother allowed me to pinpoint what I didn't want to do as a mother. I had all these notions and expectations about motherhood. Then I became a mother and motherhood was not what I expected. I hated it and it took me a while to love it. I thought something was wrong with me, but nothing was wrong. Not everyone loves being a mother in the beginning and I've even spoken to women who said they didn't like being mothers until after their children turned one (talk about refreshing). Everyone's experience is different and I'm sharing my experience because it's just as important as Cati and Elina's births. It wasn't just their lives that came into being, but a whole new side of me. I urge you, if you are a mother, to not forget about yourself and the amazing journey you have gone on to be and FEEL like a mother. Becoming a mother doesn't happen in a day but we all have the ability to be the mothers we dreamed of being as long as we give it some time. 

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