I was 32 when my first child was born. Thirty two years of being my own person, running my own show, responsible only for myself. And then, abruptly, I had a son. He arrived, and we had a rough go of it in the beginning, the two of us. He was not an easy baby. I was not a chilled out parent. I was worried about getting it right for this little being who I loved so much – worried I was doing things wrong. And I was worried because I didn’t FEEL like a mom. I just felt like, well, me. It was something I was very much aware of in those early days and weeks, the absence of something I was sure I should be feeling, but wasn’t.
I was part of a new moms’ group at the time, facilitated by a lovely doula who brought us together once a week for six weeks to check in with each other and talk about our new lives. At our last formal meeting we took turns sharing one thing we’d learned, and it wasn’t until the words came out of my mouth that I knew I was going to say them: “I AM a mom” – as though this was news to me.
“I keep waiting to feel how a mom should feel, but I just realized. I AM a mom. THIS is how being a mom feels.” It was only then – six weeks into this parenthood gig – that it occurred to me that being a mom isn’t something you feel, it’s something you do. And I was doing it. Simple as that.
I was reminded of this recently when listening to an old episode of the new-to-me podcast Death, Sex & Money (WNYC Studios): Oct 4, 2017, “Ellen Burstyn’s Lessons on Survival”. https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/how-ellen-burstyn-learned-survival
It’s a great interview, and I recommend checking it out (trigger warning – topics discussed include domestic violence and illegal abortion). I was particularly struck by Ellen’s thoughts on motherhood:
AS: That makes me think about something you told me in our first conversation, when we were talking about your son. And you said this beautiful line, you said, “You become the noun ‘mother’ by doing the verb, by ‘mothering.'” And I just thought about that so much in the last few weeks and months, feeling clueless in moments but then realizing, “Oh, I’m just doing the verb and that’s making me the noun.” It’s just really something that’s echoed in my mind.
EB: Yeah. One of the wonderful things about motherhood I found, it’s very intense. You’re so focused on keeping that child safe and well-fed. And all of your attention and energy and effort is focused on that one little being. And then later when, you know, after he or she is a grown up person and you’re on with other aspects of your life, you find that you have these little snapshot moments that you treasure forever. Like, I remember the first time I saw my baby cry, and I remember the first time I saw him smile. I was feeding him and he made a face and I just said, as part of the patter that goes along with that process of feeding, I said, “Ah, you’re putting me on.” And he laughed at that! And I thought, “Where did you get that sense of humor?” And that’s a little snapshot I carry with me. You don’t realize as you’re doing it that those are happening, and that they’ll be a part of you forever.
Eleven years of little snapshots later, and I am grateful to still feel exactly how I’m supposed to – just like me.