What they never tell you is how. Oh, sure. Everyone tells you that motherhood changes your life. You even expect a certain degree of change, but no one really tells you how different your life will be. How much you’ll doubt your own competence. How often you’ll creep to the confines of a locked bathroom and cry. How much you’ll wonder if any other woman on Earth is feeling and experiencing exactly what you are.
You put on your brave face and your big girl pants and venture out of the house, determined to meet the world head on, without fear, suppressing shame. There, you meet other mothers, similarly clad and good at faking it, and they seem so put together, so balanced, so equipped. Again, you find the nearest public restroom, retire to an inappropriately sanitized stall, and breathe an uneasy sigh, wondering if you are losing your mind or just going through the typical emotions associated with the convergence of a perpetually nauseating pregnancy, the throes of motherhood, and the ambitions of career advancement.
You come home from a particularly trying work day, and the obligatory, “How was your day?” from a genuinely well-meaning husband gives you an out to unload unabashedly all of your fears, frustrations, and concerns. His “all you have to do is think positively” remark sends you into a whirlwind of anger and annoyance, and you visualize a cast-iron skillet knocking some much-needed sense into his head. Your aggravation is exacerbated by the fact that you need to cook dinner, but the fatigue from last night left a sink full of dishes that you need to wash before you attempt to do anything else.
Your hands, submerged in water a bit too hot to stand, circle pots and pans as a new to-do list tries to categorize and prioritize in your head. You look out the window as you rinse this or that dish and wonder if Calgon really can take you away as little ones fight and whine in the background. Your mother, like an angel sent from heaven, calls and inquires about how you are feeling. She senses your anguish, remembers some of her own, and takes your side. She listens for real, refraining from giving advice, unlike the men in your life, and allows her silence to comfort and support you. If she were here, she would be sitting on the couch with your head in her lap as she rubs in only the way a mommy can.
“You’re not going crazy,” her quiet reassures. “You’re tired. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting a career and wanting to advance it. That’s what you worked so hard for. Your babies love you, and they know you love them. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting another child. Don’t feel bad about that or let anyone make you feel bad about that. You are a good woman and wife and mother. And all good women and wives and mothers feel like this sometimes. And the best ones feel like this more often than not. It means you care. It means things and people matter to you. And it’s okay. You have a right to be angry or sad or distant sometimes. You’re human. Give yourself a break.”
You hang up after exchanging expressions of love and wonder when your mom came to these silent revelations. You remember the fights between you and your siblings, the well-meaning but unknowing looks from your dad to your mom, the long moments with your mom locked in the bathroom while you pounded on the door not really having to pee all that badly, and it becomes quite clear. A shared understanding from common experience. And somehow you feel better able to conquer the world.
Tiny feet tip-toe toward you in the wee hours of the morning as a whispered “Mommy?” floats into your ears and rouses you to consciousness.
“I had a nightmare. Can I lay with you?”
“Yes,” you whisper, sliding toward the middle of the bed and lifting cover, an invitation to join. You listen to a tale of men with wings invading a school gymnasium with the sole intent of biting little kids’ arms, and you plant reassuring kisses on a forehead shaped much like yours. Cold knees press into your belly, and a head of curly hair snuggles into the space between your neck and shoulder. Soon, heavy breathing slows rhythmically, and you know that your scared child is fast asleep. There, in the quiet of the morning, you think of your mother, holding you after a bad dream and kissing away the demons from your mind, allowing you to rest when she herself was in much need of it. And you thank her for her sacrifices then and her support now. And you pray that when your sleeping baby becomes a mommy herself, you’ll be around to give that call that can put things into perspective for her, even if you never even say a word.