Are you maternal?
In my twenties, I did not want children. I just couldn’t imagine what the benefits of having them would be. I didn’t like being around other people’s children, ever. People told me that I’d change my mind.
They were right, in a way. In my thirties, my biological clock started going off. Not alarmingly so (pun INTENDED), but just a couple little ticks or pings every once in awhile. Generally I found that within an hour or two they resolved themselves. So, I kept hitting snooze. When my husband and I finally decided that we wanted to start trying for children, I remember how icy fear and panic cloaked my whole body. The thought of actually pulling the trigger and going for it was terrifying.
Ignoring all the warnings screaming in my head, we decided to try. The first time, it didn’t take. Loud thoughts of “maybe you’re infertile” sounded in my head.
While this made me feel agitated (not knowing if there was a problem or not) I also felt that if children weren’t an option…I would be fine with that. I thought of all the traveling my husband and I could do. I felt at peace. I figured all of these feelings were indicative of whether I should have kids or I shouldn’t. But it wasn’t that simple.
People would ask if we were going to have kids (because that’s what we all do to people) and my typical answer was that I wasn’t sure. I didn’t feel that I would be a good mother. Oftentimes I really felt that having kids wasn’t what I wanted. I wasn’t maternal. That type of response always provoked the nauseating: “Of course you’ll be a good mother!”
But…how did they really know that? They didn’t know me as a mother. They knew me as Molly – the coworker, Molly – the friend, Molly – the family member. Everyone insisted that it just would be so.
But just because someone says it will be so, doesn’t make it so. They didn’t predict that I would hate pregnancy; they told me to enjoy it. They weren’t right about me not having prenatal depression. They failed to see my postpartum depression. They were wrong about my childbirth being an empowering experience. They would awkwardly shuffle their feet and look away when I talked about how much I hated being a mother. They never guessed that I felt the urge to run away to Europe and leave the tiny baby that I couldn’t connect to, with my husband.
To this day, I want to angrily yell at them and say, “SEE? YOU WERE WRONG.”
Yes, it’s clear that some of those more extreme emotions were tied to my perinatal depression. However, the point is that you really can’t guarantee another person’s behavior or experience. So stop doing it. As one of my friends so poignantly said:
You do not have the authority to promise that. Not for me or for anyone.
While she was speaking on the journey of singlehood, the statement resonated with me and my motherhood experience.
Don’t tell me that maternal instincts will kick in when I have a baby. Because they didn’t. I still can’t tell what each of my son’s cries mean. On most days I feel that my husband has a better maternal instinct than I do.
Don’t tell me that I’ll be a good mother. I wasn’t – because I suffered a traumatic mental illness. I couldn’t go out by myself without my husband for the first six weeks. The idea of taking my baby anywhere produced anxiety. Some days, the ability to get off the couch to soothe his cries was not an option.
Don’t tell me that I’ll ‘like my own kid’. Because I didn’t*. Yes, it was due to a mental illness which is on it’s path to resolution, but how do you think I felt at the time? Actually, I’ll tell you. I felt like a [expletive] sociopath.
Don’t tell me that it will be the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. Because it wasn’t. This past year brought me to my knees – nearly killed me. In fact, even on recovery, I still wondered if it was all a big mistake. I know now that those feelings are part of shedding the trauma of the experience; I know I still need more space from that horrible, dark place. As time progresses, it’s getting better. I bet it won’t be long before I can say that yes, having the little guy was the most wonderful thing that happened to me. But it was/is a work in progress.
I like where I am now and love where my motherhood is going. But those trite societal cliches left a lasting mark.
Stop telling people how they are and how they’ll feel. You can’t guarantee a perfect experience, or even a good experience. You can’t guarantee their success or failure in one of the many roles that we take on in life. Instead, listen to them. Validate their concerns. It’s OK if they aren’t maternal or they don’t feel like they’d be a good mom.
*For the record, I do like my kid now. Quite a bit actually!