Each morning begins with the cold and the darkness and the small warm body of my baby curled up against my still soggy stomach. My legs are often curled up with Ever's feet resting on the top of my thighs. I open my eyes and let the darkness inside of me meet the darkness in the room. I consciously accept, each time, that I awake into anxiety. This is new motherhood for me, each time, my chemistry and heart and past stirred up roughly into the present and skimming muck over the beautiful and muck over the already ugly. The mornings break hard, like a snapped femur, and I curl over into my daughter, bracing for the worst of it to hit me, turning on the television or the lights to hold it back. Soon I will feel better, I remind myself, and continue the list of reminders while I change Ever in front of the portable heater, This is a feeling, not a tangible reality...it doesn't represent an actuality. Ever's face? A reality.
A mother and her infant. A world in itself, an entire infrastructure created between an umbilical cord. The baby is born from the mother alone, regardless of whoever watches or holds the hands or cradles the bodies in love, the mother and baby must do it together. Whatever time in this world the baby is born into, this remains the same, the signifying truth for mothers. Ever was pulled from me by a surgeon's hands, but her body was connected only to mine, and the chemical universe charging through Ever and my bodies were shared by us alone. This is the truth that creates such magnitude of love and depth of connection, the same truth that can create isolation, depression, madness: alone together. A cavewoman crouched by herself, surely, holding the rough of a tree trunk, grunting, rocks and grass in her toes, dirt mixing with urine and broken waters, pushing her baby into a planet so raw and uncivilized it is beyond the scope of my mind to imagine the feel of it; her heart as she held her new baby and lay against that tree? That, I know. Her fear as she realized the enormity of her responsibility? I know that too.
As women birthed their babies during the Pioneer times, they had little help after the baby was born. A community of women existed but daily life was the alone work of raising children, farming, tending to the house needs- neighboring houses often far away. When I wake in the morning to my children and my baby and my chemical muck, I think of those women and marvel at their endurance. How did they keep their minds intact during long February days?
Each generation of mothers enters into an ageless experience in a new environment. The fifties mother faced challenges similar to the Victorian mother, without the horrific infant mortality rates borne of filth in water and street. These days I am not expected to be present for my children at all times, but I neither do I have the support of a society who believes and acts as if motherhood is one of the highest callings in life. Mothers are in a strange time where we are openly mocked or self deprecating for focusing on our 'jobs' as mothers ( the term mommyblogger has devolved quickly into one long running joke ) but are no longer comfortable with settling into one role. This is inexorably connected to the popularity of Mormon mom blogs, in my mind, and why I found this article so interesting to read. The MMBs I read- CJane and Nie, most famously- are cheerfully and completely embraced and importantly- embracing- as mothers and given all the support and kudos anyone could desire for their mothering chops.
Finding a path through the strange emotional world of mothering an infant while simultaneously finding your place in your marriage and workplace and society at large as a mother is the role moms are taking on here and now, in 2011. I remember reading once about an immigrant to America who recalled bursting into tears in the cereal aisle of an American superstore, completely overwhelmed with the amount of choices for just cereal. Having a path laid out before you with something so mammoth as mothering, whether through church or through community, is comforting and gives a beautiful structure to the wildness of life. That same lain path can be suffocating and miserably trod if the road is paved off kilter for the way you walk. When I worked at an Orthodox Jewish preschool I had many talks with one of the teachers there who was married to a rabbi. She was extremely Orthodox- she wore the wig to hide her true self, followed the dress requirements, had one child after another, attended shul daily- and very happy. She was only 25 and had her entire existence laid out for her as the mother of three small children and expecting another. I envied her calm heart, the way her days were structured to fit within acceptable choices, the discipline of her religious devotion, the peace that simplicity can bring. I thought often about how I could embrace some of this moral structure into my life even though I could never accept such limitations as being a 'lesser being' than my husband or only allowing him to touch me when I had not a single drop of blood left from menstration.
This world that I am living in, partly a chemical reality with plummeting progesterone and increased stress hormones, partly a physical reality with lack of sleep, lack of sex, days alone at home, the constant of Ever's body pressing against mine, the spiritual reality of this profound love, this world is now being fit into the rest of my life, my relationship with my husband, my kids, my neighbors, my own body, and soon with my workplace. I wake in the morning with the anxiety from Ever's RSV and the changes inside my brain, I wake and begin to plan a structure for the day, to face named and nameless fears, to feel joy and gratitude, boredom and frustration, to edge closer to my friends, baby and milk on my chest, to remind myself that although the path is not lain clear, I am part of generations of mothers who have all birthed babies on the cusp of a changing world.