Thursday, January 26, 2012

this week's adventures in motherhood: who am I?

"In truth, nothing is more malleable than motherhood." That sentence, taken from a brilliant and troubling essay by Erica Jong, has been rattling around in my head lately. A good friend of mine emailed me a copy when I was pregnant and asked for my thoughts -- and this week I revisited what I said then because I was curious to know what a difference 8 months of parenting can make.

At the time I read it (back in November of 2010, when I had just announced my pregnancy), I didn't understand any of the pressures Jong talks about. Sure, I knew about all of the "breast is best" campaigning and the mommy wars over whether being a SAHM or a nine-to-fiver was harder/lonelier/more stressful/going to get you to heaven faster. But the immediacy of this -- the feeling that every little move I make as a mother has some kind of profound, irreversible impact on my child -- didn't resonate. That didn't happen until 4:22pm on May 24th.

There's so much to talk about in Jong's article, and I don't really want to get into a debate about third wave feminism or the political implications of mothering choices, at least not today (later, maybe!). But I do want to talk about me (who doesn't?) and my own choices as a new mother -- some that I made consciously and some that I didn't.


Before: Totally for it. Read several books, went to breastfeeding classes, watched instructional videos online, felt strongly that I would nurse exclusively for the first 6 months and would wean my baby at a year. Figured I would do semi-scheduled feedings, accounting for my and baby's needs.
8 months out: Hated every single second of it for the first three months. Thought about switching to exclusive pumping. None of the "training" prepared me for how difficult it would be and had to invent a breastfeeding position that would work for us when all of the football + cross-cradle + side-lying "standards" weren't working. Nurse on demand. No real plans for weaning -- no plans to nurse for years, either, but have sort of adopted a laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing.


Before: Determined to cloth diaper, despite the lack of a diaper service in my town. Extensive research into types and styles. Purchased AIOs to help my husband come to terms with it -- he's a crazy germophobe and the less handling the better. Figured we would use Seventh Generation diapers for the first month or two to get into the groove, then switch over.
8 months out: Still haven't used them. Feel guilty every single day.


Before: Baby will sleep in her own crib at times determined by us. "Crying it out" didn't sound like the best idea, but didn't sound like the worst either -- figured we'd do it if it would help her to sleep soundly.
8 months out: Baby was in our room in a bassinet until 5 months (and I was really sad when we moved her out). Co-sleeping during the first month or two when she wouldn't stop crying happened semi-regularly -- with me on the living room or nursery floor next to her, because my husband was so opposed to having her in our bed. A few bouts of "check and console" but definitely no leaving to cry (low-level fussing, however, I will ignore for long stretches). And regular nap times? You're so funny!

Personal lives.

Before: Thought I should probably take the summer off from my grad classes. Figured I'd be back in my church choir by August, would have my Etsy shop up and running in the fall, planned to join the local community orchestra, and thought we'd try to find a regular babysitter for date nights.
8 months out: You read this blog, right?

At first, the comparison between the before and after answers was really difficult for me. I'm such a by-the-book person -- it's hard to feel that I'm "breaking the rules" on what the experts say or even what I had thought I wanted pre-baby. I remember my husband saying to me at one point, "Just give me a book that says 'do this and everything will be fine' and, even if I disagree with it, I will do exactly what it says." I felt like that so much, too. And every time something failed or things didn't go as planned or I threw a previously-held belief about parenting out the window, it felt so massive: what if this ruins my baby forever?

But that's a great example of before and after thinking, too. 8 months out? We're doing fine. Jong's last sentences feel right to me: "We need to be released from guilt about our children, not further bound by it. We need someone to say: Do the best you can. There are no rules." I make mistakes every day -- oh well. I also make some great decisions, too. L is thriving, because of and despite my best efforts bumblings as a new mom. And flying by the seat of my pants has turned out to not be as scary as I thought it would be -- at least, not all the time.

Thanks for indulging my trip down memory lane with some early photos of L today :)


  1. To be honest, I hated every word of what Erica Jong had to say, because while, interspersed with "There are no rules" and "do the best you can" and "be released from the guilt" she was certainly heaping on her own judgements and rules her personal brand of "the best you can". At least, that's how I took it at the time.

    I think what the books and blogs and everything elses don't tell us, as mothers-to-be, is that all babies are unique (imagine that!) and that motherhood really is about learning to fly by the seat of your pants because what works on day is different the next. One day, the toddler will only eat peanut butter. The next day throws the peanut butter on the floor. One day singing softly and rocking get the baby to nap. The next day? Nothing gets the baby to nap.

    Anyway, we can only do the best we can with what we have access to. And if your best doesn't look like the best you expected 8 months ago, that's ok. Because your baby is growing and happy and loved.

  2. Michelle -- totally with you on your Jong thoughts. I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about my thoughts on her actual arguments...but no one wants to read a post that long! It was just fascinating for me to look back at what I said about her article pre-baby and to use it as a jumping-off point to reflect on my own changing perspective on motherhood...

  3. Really well said! Great perspective.

  4. Love this post and Michelle's comment. I have illusions of using cloth diapers for #2 so I'm glad to hear someone who wanted to as well, but changes the game plan along the way. :)

  5. I loved this post and laughed while reading it, because that was so ME. But probably is every other mother out there, too. "It's hard to feel that I'm 'breaking the rules' on what the experts say or even what I had thought I wanted pre-baby." YES! We were also of the "no binky" persuasion, but man have those little plugs saved our sanity at times. So glad to have found your blog after you stopped by mine!