Happy 2nd Mother’s Day to me: Why I am not disappointed by motherhood.

My husband once said to me that he was so glad that motherhood was living up to my expectations. He was happy to see that I was not disappointed by it. It felt good to have someone say that to me. It meant my joy in motherhood had radiated out. Others could see it. That’s kind of my thing, you know, that I want — for my joy to up the spirits of those around me. And it was true!  I’m really not disappointed by motherhood. I’m not saying it is all easy, or that it doesn’t make a lot of tasks more complex or stressful (topic for another entry), but, especially as time has gone by, I feel it has met and exceeded so many expectations. Let me start a bit earlier, though…  

I have always wanted to be a mother.  When I was little I loved my dolls and built up complex familial relationships between my Barbies. Thanks to that I’m still actually pretty good at keeping track of that kind of stuff, haha. Growing up, my mother spoke very highly of motherhood; I felt how much she enjoyed being with my sister and me. I knew it was something I wanted. My husband and I knew we would wait a bit to have children, but, even when you get to the point of being ‘ready’ and thinking about your future child almost every single day, life may not cooperate, for a variety of reasons!  The indescribable longing of thinking of my future child all the time, but simultaneously reaching a point where I truly had to come to terms with the idea that I might not ever meet that child, was heart-wrenching.  Then, two years ago, May became very lucky for me. I became pregnant.

I had a lot of hopes riding on getting pregnant. I have very high, lofty ideals in many areas of life. My hopes and ideals were riding on one little female fetus. The little girl she has become hasn’t disappointed in the slightest.  But why? Why do I feel that way? I know most every mother thinks her kids are wonderful and perfect and is so happy to have them in her life. But sometimes motherhood disappoints. I know some days we all reach points of feeling that way, and it is OKAY. Maybe I’m doing a disservice to say that motherhood lives up to the hype, and more.  I know that’s a source of disappointment, and even depression, for many new moms.  We are humans, and we are complex people who have many other identities, interests, people, activities, and things that fulfill us other than our children. But, for now, I wanted to reflect on why it has, for me, at this time, indeed lived up to my hopes.

First of all, in my job, I cleaned poopy diapers for 300 pound elderly bed-bound people. For years. It doesn’t quite prepare you for the breastmilk projectile poop at every single diaper change (but hey, at least baby poop doesn’t smell and the diapers aren’t as big!). However, it sure got me to learn to appreciate the joy in the simple task of cleaning up after someone’s most basic, basic needs.  In fact, I learned to love that kind of work so much I never sought to really advance my career beyond that, to my own detriment in many ways.  But it made me so very happy.  Not necessarily the poop part, but I hope you catch my drift. I think my happiest is connecting with people in very basic,  very emotional, very genuine ways. I really, truly believe that working for over 10 years in health care, caring for ill and elderly patients at their most vulnerable times, taking care of their most basic physical and social needs, and learning to find meaning in those daily activities, was crucial. It was crucial to my happiness during those years, but also crucial to finding a way of appreciating life in all its most beautiful and harsh realities, at every stage of health and existence. It gave me the mental and physical skills and knowledge to take care of another person, to keep things clean, and to take care of my own life in certain ways.  All that has helped me to more fully appreciate the dirty tasks of motherhood and, not only not dread them, but sometimes enjoy them!  A clean butt after a huge poop might be your biggest accomplishment for the day! Relish it!

Waiting to get pregnant was more difficult than I could have imagined, but somehow it really did leave me with gratitude when our miracle finally did happen.  I really appreciated it. I really meditated on it. I focused on what a miracle her life was as often as I could while I carried her.

I anticipated being a lot more nervous as a first time mother, since I tend to be a nervous person and grew up with an overprotective mother. Okay, those closest to me know I still freak out sometimes in regards to the baby, maybe more than sometimes. But generally I am amazed at how chill I am. I can’t handle a lot of other aspects of my life, but with her, hey, I can do! I can do it all. I can take care of all her needs, I can feed her with my body, everything, It’s a huge boost of confidence in myself and in her. She’s a champ! With confidence in her, and in us as a team, I have been less apt to feel disappointed or panicked or like I am failing, especially as we have gotten to know one another better and feel more secure in our routines.  

Having a close, supportive network of family and friends helped. Especially in times of strife, when I couldn’t really see my own value, I saw it in the people who continued to love me.  Slowly, I came to feel the pangs of realizing our importance as individuals and the unique beauty that each of us possesses. From before she was born until this very day, I look for those traits in my daughter.  I sensed her strength before she was born.  I know the things that make her smile.  I try to appreciate them.  I learned from my past how to value someone’s smallest assets, and I try to continue fostering that when I look at her. Having help and support from those family members and friends in giving advice and caring for my daughter were also huge factors in not being too overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood.  I don’t think that having help should be a privilege in child-raising; I think it’s necessary.

Mother’s Day 2015 was a very mixed day. I felt the sting of not yet being a mother, and a few stressful events were occurring. My dear maternal grandfather gave me a lesson that began with the question, ‘what is a miracle?’ I video recorded part of his lesson.  It was uplifting and it made me feel grateful and loved. It was a wonderful perspective on how the true joy in life is the privilege of helping and doing good deeds for those you care about. Those are things I value so highly, and he and I were very close. I later lost the file of him speaking, along with many other photos and videos. I was so angry with myself. I went through weeks of self-hatred, working tirelessly toward the goal of forgiving myself. And I finally did. And that was the week I got pregnant. It was the miracle my grandfather had just told me of, in a way. While I still wallow more often than I’d like to, this experience gave me the perspective to be a little bit gentler to myself in regard to blame. I feel that that has been an amazing asset in motherhood. The growth I worked toward has allowed me to be more calm and forgiving toward myself, in all my terrible mothering moments, and toward my daughter as well.  My incredible grandfather passed away when I was 5 months pregnant, with his hand on my growing belly. My daughter has a form of his name. That legacy and spirit, that true miracle, carried into the next generation, automatically fulfilled my expectations.

Just after Mother’s Day 2016, I made a video for my daughter about what her life meant to me. It was the middle of the night as I held her while she slept. To this day, I usually write and put my deepest thoughts about her and about life in general into words while she sleeps on me, off and on sucking her boobie.  I hope for more connection, and I hope that, like in the womb, she can sense some good loving vibes from me. There are enough not as good vibes at times so we need lots of positive physical and emotional contact.  She helped me put my thoughts into words, and she helped me put my very life into a new, perfectly formed human. It’s pretty not-disappointing if you ask me.

This Mother’s Day is the first without my maternal grandmother. She passed when my daughter was 6 months old.  I know it will be difficult for my mother.  Despite my grandmother’s dementia, she and my daughter were the best of friends; you could see it in the way they looked at one another with awe and admiration. My Nonna’s selflessness, hard work, and the values she instilled in my mother are so admirable. They make me feel inadequate. Yet it is the way both of these women flourished in motherhood that inspired me. I hope I’ve made them proud. In that hope, I find no disappointment.

I think part of being content in motherhood is to make sure you balance your needs with your child’s. I have to say I’m lucky.  I don’t feel like there are too many things that I can’t do with her. It’s about doing everything to make them happy, but still living your life — just altered and amended it to fit their needs in first. I try to do everything that I want to do — anything that she will enjoy. I tweak it to make it work for her, and we are both happy. I’m still living my own life, accompanied by a new little best friend, and she is having cool new enriching experiences. Examples include museums, music performances, cultural festivals, and nature outings. You can still do fun things! You can still go out to eat! You can still do adult things! Plus you can do kid things too!  I know not every baby is amenable to all this; I am very lucky to have had a fairly calm baby.  You can’t get your hopes up too high, but it is important to keep it as something to work at.

In difficulty, my daughter has been a loyal person to cling to. I use as much of my energy as I can to focus on reciprocating and giving her all the abundance that she has given me.  Even when my thoughts are elsewhere, lost in myself or something or someone else, I try. I never realized how much that little spirit would save me. I cannot express my gratitude. She is incredible and that feeling at certain tough times has been beyond what I expected.  Her company and companionship are just superb. Though, sometimes a tantrum during tough times is certainly not fun! Balance!

Motherhood has further hammered in a valuable lesson: being aware that happiness isn’t always immediate.  Your relationship with your child is unique and needs to be developed before you can really have more fun and enjoy it and also feel comfortable with how you are with one another. This realization is immense.  You fall more and more in love and feel more and more confident despite any initial feelings of fear or uncertainty.  I think I’ve finally understood this more recently.  In knowing that, I don’t feel as guilty or ‘bad’ for feelings or mistakes that aren’t up to what I think I should be as a mother.

I think realizing the reality versus the expectation has been a huge factor.  It is the BS of modern society and certain more mainstream baby book wisdom versus the more miraculous discovery of reality — feeling the feelings and experiences, following the latest fascinating research, looking to instinct to guide, and watching a helpless creature grow, thrive, and, in turn, teach you. The biology and emotion are overwhelmingly moving throughout pregnancy and the first year.

Motherhood has given me even more time and perspective to contemplate my favorite topics — the meaning (and lack thereof) of our lives and the developments we go through. I’m not ‘The Existential Mommy’ for nothin.  I am so grateful for this. Even the year that led up to my pregnancy taught me a lot.  It is a full-body, full-mind, full-life burst of amazingly meaningful processing. It fills me like nothing else when I think of her, and my mind is flooded with love and ideas.  That has far exceeded my expectations.

The camaraderie, companionship, and coming together that occur after you have a child is incredible and heartwarming. The gifts, the visits, the messages from fellow moms, the love and support from near and far, the tangible help, and the way the ones you love look at that new little one that is loved by all.  It’s great. People reach out and reconnect.

Attachment-y parenting. Breastfeeding on-demand. Bed-sharing. Cuddling. Near-constant contact.  That intimate physical connection surprisingly soothes you so much in the months after birth. I did not realize how much it would mean to me to see me adapt to her needs. I’ve fallen in love with her and fallen in love with the way she wanted me to parent her. I’ve fallen in love with the way I can do this for her, make her happy, and become who I am meant to be. I am proud and in love with the way I have accepted it, cast off doubt, and embraced it. And that has exceeded all my expectations more than I can say. I am so proud of her, and so happy she is who she is.

There is so much appreciation and awe, and pride in accomplishment. The more I learn about motherhood the more magical it seems to be. Things in development are so timely.  I feel like if you moderate expectations and go with it, there’s so much you can enjoy.  It’s not going to be perfect.  You will mess up. There are moments you won’t enjoy and wish you could get out of.  But knowing those things are normal, and that attachment is different for everyone and grows and changes, I think helps to keep it in perspective so that motherhood as a whole remains something positive and something you don’t feel disappointed about.  I think for all the build up I gave motherhood in my mind, I still kept that idea to keep me grounded.

You grew a new life in your body. It’s a person now! They develop slowly but they move!  First you get excited just for them to look at you, then before you know it they are walking and talking. It’s a miracle to experience.  And they are SO CUTE. From cute faces and expressions to cute feet, everything is cute.  I could not have expected any more out of my first almost 15 months of motherhood.

To conclude, I just wanted to say a couple things about my second Mother’s Day.  I spent the day itself with my mother and sister and the baby.  We lovingly refer to ourselves as my daughter’s ‘3 Mamas’ because the two of them have been so involved with her upbringing.  The next day I went out with my husband. I got some Korean food to go and we sat outside in a pedestrian plaza.  My daughter was being her fun, wild little self. She drank her milk and had a few pieces of my food, and then my husband took her for a walk.  First they just walked around the pedestrian area while I stuffed my face and snapped some pictures of them. Then, he put her in her carrier and took off down the block so he could get a slice of pizza. I sat there and ate. Alone. Happily eating my japchae noodles and Korean chicken wings, I just people-watched. It was absolutely GLORIOUS. He came back, and I told him how nice it was. So he went to circle the block a few more times. For a good 15 minutes or so I enjoyed just looking around and not reigning in and trying to feed a small toddler.  I’m not the kind of mom who likes to be away from my daughter very often. I know she’s a clingy baby and nurses so much she doesn’t like it either. I generally really don’t mind spending 24 hours a day with her; I want to.  We’re on the same schedule.  My ideal breaks from her are being nearby with someone else just kinda taking responsibility while I message with friends or take care of an errand. But we all need a break, from lots of things!  I was sitting there, looking around, loving being outdoors in a bustling area, as if it were just ME again.  But I gazed each way looking for them. I thought I heard a baby crying in the distance; was it her? My heart was beating just a little faster in anticipation. And I was all of a sudden back in Italy, in a piazza in Genoa. I was eating a very small gelato, very slowly. It was August 2015 and I was ending my first trimester soon.  Eating sweets had made me feel like I was going to pass out. But it was getting a little better, so I wanted to try a little gelato.  I knew that every time something I ate made me feel lightheaded, made my heart race, made me feel like I might faint, that my growing child was still alive inside of me causing me to have those sensations.  Even though that child was not THERE, he or she was still there with me, affecting me on such a deep level. That feeling came back to me on this Mother’s Day Monday celebration. My daughter was not right there with me, but she was, once again, still there with me, affecting me again, both physically and mentally.  It was an absolutely beautiful feeling to be brought back to. Both times, people-watching alone in a bustling square; both times, my body and mind governed by thoughts of my child. It made me realize again how what I have written here is true; her influence has not disappointed.

I hope everyone and their mothers and children, all the important women of this world, mothers or not, and those with mothering hearts who are waiting, had a lovely Mother’s Day 2017.  🙂

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