October 31, 2013

Lung capacity.

I have been hiding. Not purposefully. Not literal avoidance, but most of my friends and family would probably agree that I am not easy to reach. Xavier went on a long trip and it made me think about single parents and their ceaseless sweat. It was a hard moment for me because I was studying for that investment banking exam I had to pass (and I was certain I would not pass…the results of the exam are immediately sent from FINRA to your company, so I was convinced that I would walk back to work to shamefaced) and I had some additional pressures generally, fielding many things at once. Now that a lot of that is behind me – that regulatory hurdle is over for work, Xavier is back (and treats parenting as half his) – I should be able to breathe easier. But I find my breath still short and not just because I am 7½ months pregnant and baby is a very large stow away, hoarding space where lungs should stretch.

I look around me at women who work at my firm and have small children and just sort of wonder. What turmoil is behind the window dressing? The place I work is really intense – a lot of type A sorts, perfectionists, Wall-Street investment bankers. And there are women here. Sometimes the firm sponsors events for the Women’s Network – discussions about work/life balance or the book “Lean In” (the conversation was ironically and somewhat hilariously dominated by male voices). It would be easy to think that these women are just birthing vehicles for their children, who then sort of leave them in other people’s hands, but I actually don’t think that is true. My conversations with them belie that version of the tale. They are obsessed with their babies like other mothers I know (like me) and their versions of motherhood feel much nobler than I ever gave them credit for in the past (sometimes a Mormon background gives one the tendency to pity children whose mothers aren’t omnipresent – I find myself pitying Colette in that way and have to stop myself when I realize how she is flourishing).

Motherhood guilt is gripping (I am sure fatherhood guilt as well, but I can only speak for my experience) – it strips me of vanity, of self-care, of so many things. I find it slipping in after me as the subway doors close - haunting me for the ride, as I look down at my phone during the day – wishing the screen would feed back more clues about Colette than just small green bubbled words when the text message reports come in, as I stand with my keys at the front door in the evening – waiting to open it until I take one deep deep breath – steadying myself for the “second shift” (the most vital one). The tricky thing about “motherhood” is that it is so gripping – small underperformances feel colossal and every other mother’s choices and arrangement feel like a ruling on your own (and yours on theirs). All heightened for a girl who comes from a culture where a very specific arrangement for motherhood is accepted as true/good/valuable/moral.

And then, the craziest part is that when I forget about the lung space situation, I actually forget that a little lady #2 will be here in early January!


emily said...

hi emilie--remember me? we taught "ethics and values" (those quotation marks are thick with meaning) at the university formerly known as utah valley...actually i forget what it was called at the time.

anyway, i sometimes look at your blog because it's so wonderful, and i had to comment on this post. i had a baby boy a year ago, and i love what you say in this post about what it feels like to be a mother. it is unexpected and strange and, as you write, gripping. and i think you're right that the emotional experience of motherhood is probably pretty much the same no matter how you're doing it.

emily asplund

Laura said...

This post made cry. Not an actual cry, but more of a soft, panic-sticken, chest-tightened almost-cry. You are good at coming up with words.

I've been a bit hurt lately by all the anti-feminist rhetoric claiming that we devalue motherhood. On the one hand, I know how flawed it is. On the other hand, people I love buy into it. How can any mother not know that I agonize over my children with all the love and terror and zealotry and fury as any mother who has ever loved a baby? I am never, really, at ease when I'm not with my babies, and I've worked with so many women with similar accounts.

It has been really interesting to me that even my friends who have not been raised in cultures like ours, whose mothers had successful careers while childrearing, have the same violent, gut-wrenching reactions to motherhood. I don't know how many e-mails I have in my inbox to the effect of "Help! My maternity leave is almost over and I'm having an emotional breakdown!" It really does take your breath away. And I know I don't have to answer the ever-asked "Then why not just stay home?"

Not here, anyway.

Aralena said...

Motherhood made me a far less judgmental person. It is humbling. You are a wonderful mama, Emilie.

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