I am writing this propped up in bed when I should asleep. The need for some time with my thoughts has beaten the desire to close my eyes and block out my current state of exhaustion. Last night, at one am, I had the unenviable task of whisking my roasting one-year-old to the emergency department with the belief that he had a bad bout of croup. He didn’t, we were back home within an hour and a half, and I felt a bit silly. As I stood rocking him back to sleep in my bedroom while he slapped me repeatedly on the chin and I wondered if my wrist bones might actually be starting to crack, I thought, “This is not how I imagined motherhood.”
On the tail of that, I also thought, “This is exactly how I imagined motherhood.”
Not the hospital or the strained wrists, or that I’d only slept through the night once in 18 months. Not the rhythmic hitting of my face used by my son as a means of unwinding, and not the many evenings – like the last few – where I was actually too tired to have a conversation with my husband and it felt as though we were more like passing ships instead of partners in crime.
It’s the way I was the center of my children’s world, the need to protect them at any cost, and the bond that stretches between us with a force so strong I can sometimes see it, that’s what I imagined. It’s precisely these feelings that I felt I needed so much when we underwent the somewhat grueling task of trying to become parents.
The lack of sleep, lack of time for oneself or one’s relationships, and the total lack of personal space would suggest to many that motherhood is the ultimate act of selflessness. Someone else always comes first, whether we like it or not. We can’t sit down, finish a hot drink or a sentence, and have little control of how our day or night will pan out. We are the ultimate martyrs, right?
Actually, having children was all about me, not them. I wanted to experience pregnancy and to create someone made from my husband and me, despite knowing we could’ve tried to offer a home to children seeking adoption. Even when pregnancy eluded us for some time, still I persisted. I thought of myself as brave and determined, but actually, I was selfish – having a baby was about my needs, not anyone else’s. This doesn’t make me wrong, or bad; the desire to procreate is natural and inherent in many of us, and attempting to make myself happy is no sin. However, it is interesting that, over time, the mother figure has become synonymous with sacrifice and nobility when ultimately we are fulfilling our own needs and desires as we undertake this role.
Becoming a mother was my most selfish act, yet it has made me the least selfish I have ever been. Even on the days when I don’t want to put my children’s needs before me, I have to put them before me. This is in part because they make me, and in part because I am ultimately a decent person who accepts that their need for food, safety, and comfort comes before my need to use the bathroom in peace and watch Netflix all day.
It has changed me irrevocably; I am wholly altered. It has sharpened my ambitions, focussed me, and given me a confidence in myself that was lacking for some years before. It has brought a lot to my table while also stealing days and nights, and progressing aging with lines and stretched skin more rapidly than desired and more cruelly than I feel is justified.
It is messy, disorganized, impossible to control, and regularly infuriating. It makes me worried, doubtful, stressed, and consumed with the kind of minute detail I don’t wish to be consumed with. Who am I now? I wonder sometimes. Why do I care so much about such boring, mundane shit?
It has also enlightened me, and offered me moments of pure, unfiltered, bottomless happiness. It has helped me prioritize and set me free from so many things I thought I needed to care about. It has freed me and allowed me to let go.
I’ve never felt more loved than I do by my children – or harassed, definitely harassed. But the love stuff, which is indescribable and also right at the surface of it all, seems to far outweigh the harassment side.
I am good at this. I am good at motherhood. I am silly and funny and never let a day go by that doesn’t involve hugs and open, proud love. I dance with my children and listen and say, “Yes!” as well as “Not today.”
I am also bad sometimes: impatient, snappy, misguided, and mistake-filled. I get so bored of examining my own behavior, of being my loudest critic, and of always reflecting and learning and trying. But I do it, and I know I’ll always do it.
Motherhood is feeling the winter sun on your face as your child stomps through leaves, laughing and filling up your heart, and motherhood is being screamed at over an ice lolly while you carry a bike in one hand and an angry baby in the other.
It is brilliant and brutal, love and despair, fairytale and fear. I love this life, though. It is mine and ours and theirs, and I am very glad I was selfish enough to make it.