Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Scary Side Of Motherhood

Mommyhood is so many things. A million thoughts cross a mother's head every day. All mothers are different, but I wonder if we aren't all connected by our shared experiences in some ways, particularly the shared experience of loving someone else, uncontrollably, more than we love ourselves. This is a wonderful thing but also a scary thing. And it is often the source of some not so pleasant thoughts. These are some of those thoughts. They are thoughts that I often must wade through, but rarely speak of.

When Jacob was a newborn, my husband and I were discussing what we would do if a horrible predicament ever arose in which we could only save on person. I told my husband not to take offense but I was 100% certain I would save the baby over him.

He seemed a little surprised by my answer. He then confessed that he would save me. His reason was, that if he had me, we could make more children. The thought horrified me. I instructed him that he was to save our baby. That's what I would want. End of story. Several times since then I've imagined me and one of my babies being perilously close to the edge of a cliff. In my imagination, if my husband would start to reach for me first, I would threaten to jump.

It's a horrible morbid thought but I often have wandered back on that moment and wondered whether my husband's answer revealed some natural difference between mothers and fathers (or perhaps my husband is just too practical). A man's journey to fatherhood is so much different than a woman's journey to motherhood. Maybe there is a much longer bonding period? Maybe the father can't as clearly see the newborn as a part of himself, the way that a mother understands the child as an extension of her own body? (There is nine full months of evidence of that!). Maybe a mother who has come to know her child over the course of sharing the same body for nine months has a better grasp of the fact that no child can be replaced.

I'm curious how my husband would respond now, nearly six years later. But I could never ask the question. I could never play that game now. Now that I have more than one child, just the thought of the game makes me anxious. There is absolutely no way I could choose between my children. I'm having a nervous breakdown just thinking about it. When the thought pops into my mind, I quickly push it away and hope I would never have to know the answer.

I've unintentionally been thinking a lot of morbid thoughts lately. I think it has to do with pregnancy. One change I did not anticipate upon becoming a mom was that I would be so much more fearful and paranoid. After Jacob was born, I would take him out for jogs along my favorite running paths. And suddenly, the path that I had run so many times before seemed insanely dangerous. I ran over a bridge and became nearly paralyzed with the fear that it would fall into the water below. The cars seemed dangerously close to the sidewalk. And with every turn, I could almost imagine my stroller tipping over and falling into the street.

Things have mellowed considerably over the years, but I can still imagine the worst out of any normal situation. And lately, for some reason, my mind keeps wandering to the thought of natural disasters. Floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, fires. I hear one incident on the news and my imagination goes crazy. It's nearly unbearable.

I've lived a life untouched by death. I'm extremely sheltered from the deep pain that comes with losing someone. I can't even imagine how to survive through such loss. I can't imagine how heavy and paralyzing that pain must be. Still (and maybe because I'm so sheltered from it) the fear of losing someone consumes me often.

The more people I have to love, the harder it gets for me. When you create someone, your happiness is inextricably tied to that person's welfare and safety. I think every mother will agree that it's much harder to love someone else than it is to love yourself. You can't take away someone else's pain. You can't erase their nightmares. You can't wipe away their fears. All you can do is watch, helplessly. And the thought of living without them is more horrible than the thought of your own departure from the world.

Tangible, earthly love is scary. The deeper you love, the more you have to lose. The more precious something is, the more vulnerable it also becomes. The more beautiful, the easier it can be defaced. And it's totally humbling and mortifying for a mother to realize that as she holds the small hands of her precious children, she cannot control their future or fate. The saddest truth a mother will learn is that there are forces out there beyond her control.

As I think about making space in our family for a fifth person, I often wonder what I am getting myself into. Don't I get it by now that I'm creating my own vulnerability? That I'm setting myself up for heartache? That I'm inviting more uncontrollable paranoia? This is the dark, scary side of motherhood that rarely gets mentioned. And yet, it is consuming (for me anyway). It is a silent, but always present foe. And even though I know most fear is unfounded, irrational, and merely an absence of faith, it's something so integral to motherhood that it appears I cannot escape it.

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