When I was a new mother, I loved the ache in my arms and the crook of my neck from where my daughters’ heads lay while I held them for hours. I was proud that I could carry a baby in a carrier plus a diaper bag and groceries up three flights of stairs. These days I can run around our neighborhood streets while my girls ride their bikes, all of us giggling and shouting. But these things my body is able to do don’t count because of this other issue.
I didn’t like breastfeeding. And that’s putting it mildly. I feel so guilty about this truth that it haunts me. It makes me feel like maybe I’m not 100 percent a real mom.
So here’s what I do to make myself feel better: I look around for and listen to other mothers who have haunts and are brave enough to share them with me. There’s the mom who would call me up and whisper through what I’m pretty sure were clenched teeth (so it came out more like a growl), “I just want to use the bathroom with the door closed.”
Her boys are teenagers now, and they are two of the nicest teenagers I know. Her sons look at her with trust and hope. They admire her. They joke around with her. And I know by her smile that she loves the ruckus they bring to her life.
There’s the mom who recently had another baby and when I went to visit said, “I forgot about the infant stage.” I can’t remember now who said it, but “It’s scary” was spoken and agreed upon.
This friend is one of the best mothers I know. She’s the sort of person who was born to be a mother. I like to hang out with her because she’s hilarious and she isn’t afraid to admit when things are scary. (Or maybe she is afraid, but she admits it anyway.)
There’s the woman who worries about how much TV her kids are watching, and at the same time hopes that another round of Sesame Street is OK because that would allow her to clean the kitchen, prep dinner, put in some laundry.
Once we took our children to a butterfly exhibit in our neighborhood, and for a snack, she twisted and clipped baggies filled with Cheerios into the shape of butterflies. My girls still have the clothespin with googly eyes and curlicued pipe cleaners. “That was a fun day,” they say. “Let’s do that again.”
Then there’s my friend who is adopting a little girl, born a few weeks ago. She has been working towards adoption for a few years now, and she is so close. She has stopped working. She has bought a crib, diapers, baby toys.
I’m nervous for her. What if it doesn’t work out? I mean, what if the adoption falls through?
In a letter to friends filling us in on the details, she explained that this was a fear she, too, wishes she could protect herself from. She also wrote that she believes risking heartbreak is the right thing to do. The only thing to do.
I realized then that she is a mother.
I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to like breastfeeding even before I became a mother. But I didn’t let this flaw stop me. We don’t arrive to motherhood in perfect condition. We bring all sorts of fears and worries, mistakes and faults with us.
But we can be flawed and we are still moms. We can be angry and we are still moms. We can be afraid and we are still moms. We can have no clue what the right thing to do is, and we are still moms. Most of all, I think what makes us moms is the willingness to keep doing what my friend is doing: open our arms wide and risk heartache.
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