Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Motherhood: The Real Skinny

My friends know me. They love me for who I am. And my friends who know and love me know better than to expect me to sugar-coat my opinions, even for them. So my friends do not come to me if they want to be in denial. They come to me if they want the straight scoop. Because that's what I'm going to give them. I'm going to tell them things they might not want to hear, but that will do them a world of good in the long run.

I have a problem wiht how America markets stuff -- the Iraqi war, the current gas crunch, our political candidates, the Democratic party platform -- but, first and foremost, motherhood. You know what I mean. You've seen the commercials. You know which ones... those Johnsons Baby Lotion commercials with the mother all dressed in a flowing, white organza kaftan, whisking her impossibly adorable, clean, happy baby, clad only in a diaper, over her head, while the window sheers behind them billow with a heady Spring breeze and the cat looks on admiringly?

Forget it. In real life, a minute later, the baby spits up and her flowing white organza kaftan is splattered with pre-digested baby food and/or breast milk. I'm sorry. But that's the real story, and every mother reading this knows it.

Here are a few things that women who long to be mothers but aren't yet don't want to hear about motherhood from those of us who've been there:

1. It's really hard work.
2. The first two years are pretty much body effluent. From every possible orifice. After that, it's just them doing thing you really wish they wouldn't do.
3. You don't always like the kid.
4. The kid doesn't always like you.
5. The first two to three months are the hardest, least pleasant time.
6. Sex is never the same again.
7. Your partner will probably not be as much of a help as he has said he will -- mostly because he didn't know how hard it was going to be.
8. The kid doesn't alway look good and smell good.
9. There will come a moment at some point in the process -- perhaps even several moments -- when you will wish you'd rethought the decision to have unprotected sex -- even if the pregnancy was well-planned. Most of the time, this feeling passes quickly if left alone and ignored.
10. You are not June Cleaver. Your husband is not Bill Cosby. This isn't a sitcom. It isn't a diaper commercial. It's real life. Let it go, for God's sake.
11. Did I mention the "hard work" part?
12. You don't deserve to get anything out of the experience. It's not your childhood, it's the child's. You better take your pleasure in the giving and the growth and the progress of your child's childhood.
13. And while we're on the subject -- Giving birth to your child is not your birth experience. It's the baby's birth experience. Quit making it all about you. (I hate that American women prance around like they freakin' invented childbirth.)
14. The work is really hard.
15. No. I mean, really hard.

Motherhood is not an Olympic event. It isn't a pageant or a contest. Even more than the military, motherhood is the toughest job you'll ever love. Babies ruin your life. If you're ready for them, and you've wiped the freakin' stardust from your eyes so you can see real-life, they do it in the best possible way. But get this, and get it good. Remember that story that women-who-wanted-it-all always told us about the women in China giving birth in the beanfield, then going on picking beans as if it were nothing. Forget about it. You're not a Chinese beanfield picker. That life that you love, full of weekend getaways and blissful Sundays lolling in bed, pouring over the Calendar section of the LA Times? Gone. Dinner parties? Gone. Every journey out will be chaperoned by a tiny, bald person with appallingly bad manners. Goodbye, Ma Maison and House of Blues. Hello, Bob's Big Boy and House of Pancakes. And, bear in mind, won't you, that each journey with your new constant companion will approach a complexity something akin to a NASA launch.

"Diaper bag?"
"Five changes of clothes?"
"Baby wipes for the baby, and small, mini-bar sized bottles of hard liquor for us?"
"Check, and double check."

I believe that the current wave of post-partum depression is not just hormonal. It comes from this frilly, florid imagining of what we think our experience will be raising our children. Then this mysterious little larval creature arrives, and we have no idea who he or she is, or what he or she is thinking, or "for the love of God, what do you want from me?"

That's when the depression hits. We are the end of the boomer generation, after all. There's nothing we can't market for our own edification. We came in fully prepared to "reinvent" motherhood. No, sir. Motherhood is way too old and way too set in her ways to be reworked by the likes of you. You don't reinvent her, she reinvents you. Understand this, accept the changes that it makes in you -- your body, your mind, your relationship with your significant other, your priorities -- and your path will be filled with little adventures and casual surprises. You can't imagine the simple, commonplace miracle of arriving in the nursery in the morning to a beaming, slightly damp ten-month old who has pulled herself to a standing position and is so happy to see you that she's rocking from side to side in a celebratory little crib boogie. It will shock and amaze you how having someone spontaneously hug and kiss you because you helped them into a fresh diaper and a clean, dry t-shirt can utterly melt your heart. But mostly you can't imagine before you become a mother -- no matter how hard you try -- just how much you will love your child. As much as you think, in your present anticipation of motherhood, that you think you will love that child, it doesn't even come close to the real thing. "Love" is, in my belief, a pathetically inadequate word for the feeling a devoted mother has for her child. It's far too common to sum up the emotion.

And its that love that makes it all possible. The giving. The thanklessness (newborns rarely say thank-you after the 2 am feeding). The drudgery (diapers after strained squash -- 'nuff said there). The imposition on the relationship with Mr. Wonderful (and my wish for every woman is that he truly is Mr. Wonderful). Those little miracle moments when it suddenly occurs to you that you've contributed a strange, relentlessly independent human to the world, and no one could have done it the way you did -- those moments make you happy and at peace.

Motherhood may not always be easy, and it may not always be as pretty as commercials, movies, and television paint it, and you can rest assured you are going screw up more times than you get it right. But, big picture, its a blessing and a joy and if you cut yourself some slack, and don't buy into the bill of goods, you'll never be sorry you did it.

Now then. Isn't that better than the mass-marketed crap you get from pregnancy and women's magazines?



  1. Sounds about like what I'm expecting actually, but I've always been kinda cynical. I'm thinking I'll spend at least half of the first year thinking "Jesus God, what have I done?!" The other half, well I'm going to do my damndest to unclench and enjoy it.

  2. I'm making little sacrifices to the Baby Goddess that little Funshine is a good sleeper who requires at least twelve nighttime hours of shut-eye right out of the gate. That ought to make your experience MUCH more pleasant.

    Hey. What are you doing here? Get packin', Missy. And get that camera all ready, because I'm expecting some wowser photos of Down Under.

    And when you get back, pictures of your baby -- the excellent sleeper -- will be waiting for you! (Ooo... I just gave myself goosebumps!)


  3. PS... because we must be specific for the Baby Goddess...

    That's twelve PACIFIC NIGHTTIME hours.

    Just so's we're all clear on that....


  4. yes
    yes and wait --she always "looks" good-- smells on the other hand!-but all true-- all of it!!

  5. Thank you. That was wonderful. Now where the hell were you when I was a kid to tell my mother the same thing? Oh yeah - being a kid. She wouldn't have listened to you anyway.


  6. wooohoooo! cheers to you!.....this is as real as it gets.....ladiez and jellyspoons, babies aren't pets!