Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pioneer Mother

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.
Elisabeth said...

Fascinating stuff,Maggie, especially about Mormon mommy blogs. I did not realise it was so prevalent.

I prefer more of a balance in the way life is presented, not sugar syrup, nor total despair and I prefer that it be expressed well.

To me you have this balance - exquisite writing that incorporates the joys and the pain of life. Yours is an authentic voice and to me that's more important than any image. Thanks.

Hannah Stephenson said...

What a beautiful, beautiful piece, Maggie. I admire you much.

Unknown said...

Very well spoken. Motherhood is a scary and beautiful thing and so different for everyone. Every now and then I think of the mothers before our time and ponder their situations with reverence, how strong they must have been.

Julia said...

I was telling my two eldest just this past week that my relentless focus on finding what is good, on picking myself up and going on, is entirely unnatural and totally self-willed. Both were agape: it had never occurred to them that this was not a natural part of my personality, but something in which I had trained myself. I salute your morning strength, and the daily battle you do. It takes courage, and work.

I do think life is easier when we find the truths that are plain to us, and follow the paths that they lay out. Too many choices are debilitating. Not enough make us feel helpless and depressed.

I gave up on listening to the world's message that women could/should do X and Y and Z. I treat those messages the way I do a whining toddler: I nod, make sure things are safe, and tune out the rest. Maybe it's me and my limits, but I just can't process it all, much less integrate them with what I think is important in life.


~Amber Elise~ said...

Maggie, you have again said things I want to say and simply cannot find the words. This is a new era of mothering, I think it would've been almost easier as a pioneer mother- emotionally anyway- there simply was not time to THINK, and that is one of the hardest parts, so much to decide, so many paths to take, and little focus except for trying to get through every day, love your new babe, and wade through the chemical muck (I believe that is how you so accurately stated it :). And so much of it is done alone, because no one else understands in that living moment what you are experiencing... You are strong, Kudos to you for pushing through this, for being a mother, it is the most important task any of us could commit to.

Elizabeth said...

Beautiful writing, Maggie -- like you. Beautiful and honest and raw. I am fascinated, too, by the Mormon blogs and read some of them quite avidly. I'm not sure why I am suspicious of them, though -- it's instinctual. I think they lend credence to the Buddhist concept that we make our own thoughts and that external reality is not really anything but another construct of our own minds --

Caroline said...

I always want to say "thank you" when I come here. What you share with us (knowledge, perspective, heart) is really a gift. A gift.

It comforts me too to look at mothering from an anthropological perspective. I hadn't thought about that with pioneer mothers, but it makes perfect sense. They were isolated in a way too.

I would like to know the anthropological perspective on why new moms have to go through so many chemical/hormonal changes. I'm not quite sure I understand the benefit from an evolutionary standpoint.

Loved this post, Maggie. Loved it.

Petit fleur said...

Beautifully said.

I often marvel at the pioneer mothers or native mothers. Mothers without conveniences or comforts. Or not many anyway. Sometimes that is the only time I pay attention to myself is with a coffee from the coffee shoppe or a chocolate, or playing on the computer a bit or reading. Those women didn't have time for acknowledging their own personal needs. yikes.

I love every word of this post Maggie. You are brilliant.

Mwa said...

I feel it so strongly, too, these days - the connection to all the mothers of all the places and all the times. I hope your anxiety eases a little soon.

Sabine said...

From one mother to another: THANKS.

Ms. Moon said...

You have put into words what millions of women feel and go through.
This is a very important and beautiful piece of work, Maggie.

Anonymous said...

Having a baby broke me wide open both physically and emotionally. I was completely unprepared for the power of it and the mind numbingness of it all. All I've ever done is work.... and the intimacy of day in and day out care was terrifying and overwhelming especially as a 42 year old mother who had no friends in the same boat, no mother near by. But we survived. Hugs as always- You have been brave enough to do it all more than once- better than I!

Mo said...

Thank you for this.

Vodka Mom said...

I think of you and your new one EVERY SINGLE DAY.

and I pray that God holds you in His arms.

Michele R said...

I loved this post and enjoyed reading its links. It made me remember that when I was in labor with my first baby, out of nowhere I visualized a covered wagon moving over hills and ruts and thought of pioneer women and what they endured and here I was doing what my body knew to do, but in a comfortable surrounding with people attending me. Thinking of those women gave me strength.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

This is truly beautiful and heart-breakingly profound, Maggie.

I love you. Kiss Ever for me.

Annie said...

Hi Maggie,
I've just come in tonight to read this. I am impressed, as always, by the beauty and honesty of your writing, and your ability to view events and relationships from so many angles. The more choices we have, the more difficulty we can encounter, but also, our lives are so much richer.

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