Thursday, February 2, 2012

Essays on Motherhood {pt 1 - We are strong.}

This week, Grey learned Mama. It is the sweetest sound I have ever heard, him reaching for me, hugging me, mumbling "Mum. Muma." Even in the middle of the night, I don't mind so much when he gets up, when he calls out  Muma? first.

I don't think I ever wrote about the experience, but a few months after the babies were born I was asked to come in and speak to a class on campus.
It was a class called (something like) The Social and Economical something something of Women.
Essentially it was a feminist women's studies course.
I was asked to bring my babies, and be prepared to answer some "questions about Motherhood."

I was a little worried that it would be (at least partially) an attack on mothers like me, who chose to drop out of school, quit my job, and be at home with my kids 100% of the time.
I came at the beginning of the lecture, and listened/played with my babies while the professor talked about previous lessons, mothers, some article or story about this or that mother.  She read a quote by Madeline L'Engle, which I have searched in vain for about how all mothers must understand Mary (mother of Christ) to some extent when they hold their new infant in their arms.
And then she called me to the front of the room.  She asked me to strip my babies down to their diapers, so that everyone could see and appreciate how beautiful and perfect they were.

I was in a room of about 50 students. Most of them women. Most of them childless.
I don't remember every question that she asked me, but I do remember a few, and these weren't my answers verbatum, but at least close. And many of these things are questions I've pondered for last 6 months.
She asked, "Having two new babies, when you look at the world, do you think it's good enough, or do you want to change it for the better?"

Before I had my babies, I looked at the world and I saw a lot of evil or ugly things, but I was like "Whatever. People have their choice. They don't have to fight in wars. They don't have to look at porn. We all have pain and cruelties, but that's life."
And now I do not think like that.
Now I look at war, and it breaks me. I think of my sons dying, my husband dying, I think of them injured abused, torn apart by the awful actuality of war and I think "How can parents let this happen? I know these people have children. Why are they allowing violence and hatred?"
Hatred. I've gone from being offended and horrified by ignorance and hatred, to being physically nauseous about it. I hear about kids bullied at school; my brother Jack's best friend is Jewish and you wouldn't believe the things kids at his middle school say to him.
It makes me want to break down the kids' front doors and punch their parents in the throat.... but in a nonviolent, enlightening way.  Kids don't wake up and think to themselves "You know what's funny? The holocaust. Those Jews, aww man. They're the worst." They're taught that.
I am grossed out. And that is not, by far, the worst thing that children are being exposed to.
Which is a horrible thing to know.
I don't know how, but man oh man. I will make the world better.
Or at least, I will spend all my time teaching my kids that the evil around them is unacceptable.

The professor asked me, "Do you feel like you can love to a greater extent now that you have your children?"

And honestly, I don't know.  In movies and sappy poems people always say "I never knew I could have so much love for someone," but loving my children so so much doesn't feel unnatural or impossible. But I do feel a different kind of love for them than I feel for anyone else, even my husband Travis.
I love Travis as another person, one who completes and perfects me, but is nonetheless a separate being and body from myself.
My children are not. They are not seperate beings and bodies than I am. They are me.
They are part of me, they were nurtured and grown by me. They are my body. Even after they were born, and they were nursing, I was nourishing them. Every ounce they gained was first my ounce.  I miss feeling them kick inside of me. I miss the closeness of being able to completely and totally surround and encompass them, and have them -in turn- complete me.
I felt a bit empty for so long after they were born.
I still feel fantom kicks every single day. But there's not a baby (or two) in there anymore. I love having them cling to me. I love having them fall asleep in my arms. I love their hot, wet breath on my neck as they sleep, because it feels like I am whole again.
It's a strange feeling, seeing part of your body, like your heart or your lungs, tramping about the room. Learning.  Discovering. Growing more distant and separate from you every day.
It is not always pleasant.

The professor asked me: "What if you were at the park, and you were distracted by Micah and when you look up, you notice that someone is leaving with Grey?"
"I would stop them," I said.
"He's far away, he's clearly stronger and bigger than you. I mean, what would you do?"
"I would stop them," I repeat. "They would be stopped."
"At all costs?"
"Would you kill someone to protect your child?"

Here's the thing: When my babies were newborns, I would jerk awake at every creak and peep. I would find myself thinking "There's someone is their room, someone is taking my babies."
I would try to wake Travis, but let's face it -he was so tired that he wasn't going to get up and prance into their room unless they were screaming to be fed (and even then, there was no prancing.)
"Okay," I would steel myself as I walked to their room, sometimes picking up a hammer or a leveler on my way, just in case. "When you go in there, you might have to kill someone."
And I was not joking.
If there had ever been someone in their room.... they would have been attacked with all the strength and insanity of a mama grizzly bear.
And they still would.
I will protect my children. I will kill people for my children. They are mine. They are part of me. You will not touch them against my will.
I have a friend who is father, and although his wife has said the same thing as me (she would kill someone to protect her son) he has said that he probably wouldn't.  "I don't know that I could kill someone," he said. "It's not just like sticking a knife into a steak, it's a person. It's a person, and you're taking away their life."
And that is valid. I couldn't kill someone for just any reason. I doubt that I would do very well in war (especially now that I am a mother. I can't even see people holding hands on the street without wanting to burst into tears, because they're *gasp* so happy and *sniffle* in love) but this is a different kind of war. This is someone trying to walk away with a chunk of my heart. A literal, physical piece of my body.
You think I'm gonna let that slide?
No, sir. I am not.

The teacher ended the class with a discussion of the strength and power of mothers.
"Being a mother makes you want to change the world for the better, avoid wars, solve conflicts, help people," she said. "But you just heard this skinny 21 year old announce that she would kill any one of you that tried to leave with one of her kids, so motherhood certainly doesn't make a woman weak." 
Babies have that power, she said. If a man with a gun came into the class right now, and tried to leave with these kids, I don't think that Becky would be the only one risking her own life to stop them, and none of you have ever even seen these children before.
But would you let him take them?

It was one of the most powerful arguments for women in politics that I've ever heard. I left thinking, "We need a woman president, clearly the person taking care of our country should be someone that wants to rid the world of war and evil, and yet will fight to the death to protect her citizens."

But it also gave me a renewed and wonderful sense of strength.
It's easy to feel like we're at the bottom of a heap. I am in my apartment for 22 hours a day (longer in Montana, since we don't have a car or stroller here and it's freezing out), and for most of the waking hours, I'm essentially alone. It's so easy to feel forgotten, downtrodden, unappreciated. It's so easy to forget that I am making a great and important contribution to society. It's so easy to just...

But don't.
Don't shrivel up. Don't give up. Don't bleh.
We are strong.

And I have a lot to say about it, and you probably do too.
Stay tuned for more thoughts and essays on Motherhood, and please please please leave links and thoughts in the comments. I'd love to hear your opinions, and couldn't we all do with an encouraging word?

And I'd love a vote, they reset the numbers! Just click on the box below, and the left hand owl on the page you're redirected to!
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Brittany H said...

Holy crap you pretty much made my day. We totally don't even know each other, but hearing your words makes me feel so much better about my life. It's so easy to be alone in my apartment all day long, and to feel a little bit down. I feel like I go days at a time without talking to another adult (besides my husband). But it's such a good feeling to be reminded what a huge contribution we are making to the world, and what a difference we can make with our children. I wouldn't give up staying home with my child for anything.
You are just much better at putting it into words.

-Tess- said...

amazing post!!! I love it, and I will share your link with my friends!

Kristin said...

This is by far my favorite post you have ever written. I've been giving a lot of thought to this lately. I couldn't have said it better myself. Wish I could have been in that class.

Lessa said...

I think this is my favorite thing I've ever read on your blog. Inspiring.

Unknown said...

There it is. That is what I needed. You and your bloggers whom I don't know, can know that my husband and I are trying for a baby. I was scared at first. I was worried it wouldn't come naturally to me. But there it is. The raw truth that it is a woman's nature to protect hers. Holy smokes, Becky... very powerful.

Claire said...

Becky, yesssss! I think about this stuff so much. I have lists and lists, pages and pages about ideas for essays like this one. The true life of a mother too often goes unrecognized. We have to tap into it! Even though my baby is still in my belly, I already feel this way. Thank you for articulating your feelings. I loved reading it, beginning to end.

Unknown said...

"this is a different kind of war."

I love it, Becky!

You also just made me realize what those weird pangs are in my womb area...I seriously wondered if I was pregnant again, or if my organs were moving around, but there you go. I must miss carrying them too.

RRundo said...

thank you for this. i agree, i would do anything to protect my baby. i love your honesty. your blog posts make my days better!

Emily said...

I would just like to say that you inspire me. I love getting topics like motherhood out there in the open to talk about and think about. It's true that there's definitely a different kind of love that you have for your kids than for anyone else. It helps me understand a little bit more how Heavenly Father must love us. I know it's infinite, but now it feels like his love must be infinitely infinite if I can love my little boy as much as I do. I'm definitely staying tuned for more of this motherhood talk.

Suki said...

Yes, we are strong.

Oh Becky, this just made my day. This has to be shared with many women, because you know we all have this hard time where raising kids is just, hands down, plain hard.
Agreeing on the bit where you describe the babies as a part of your body, I still feel like that too.

Carra Nicholes said...

I've been reading since Grey and Micah were in the hospital. I even named my 7 month old (today!) Greyson so I felt a kinship with you from the start.

However, i've never taken the time to post a comment until today. I completely agree with you on the statement about watching a piece of you move around the room is the most complicated feeling out there. I often find myself in a panic at night thinking that I didn't spend enough time with my baby and by the next time I see him, he'll already be one day older and one day closer to being his own independent being. I love watching him grow and learn, but with every new skill he learns, it's another step away from his mama.

I now truly understand the meaning of bitter sweet.

Little Gray Pixel said...

Woah, that is one intense class. Great post.

Bonnie said...

I love this. It articulates perfectly what every mother must feel. And that makes it sound generic and commonplace, but every mother feels like her intensity and love are all her own and can change the world. Which is true.

You don't know me, but I really enjoy your blog. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Becky! Oh Becky! You make me want to pound my chest, in the pouring rain, ranting and screaming: "I AM WOMAN!!" total Hollywood style. This is an AMAZING post, and I think if Michelle Bachman had got her womanly political hands on this empowering gem, well, I think a lot of people would be seeing her in the polls right now. Now, I am only 16, and far, far, faaaar away from having children. (read 100 years away. Just kidding, but pretty close to that) but this makes me so excited to be a mom, for that right there!! ALL moms should read this!!. I am soooo impressed with this essay and can not wait for more! Give those two sweet munchkins a squeeze for me!

Lots of love from Washington!
Kelly Little

P.s. I love your Instagram photos!!! :) @kellyannlittle

Angela said...

LOVE this!!!!!!!!!


Natalie and Jared said...

Love this post! I love the way the professor ended the discussion!

Unknown said...

And this is one of many reasons you consistently get my vote in the topbabyblogs thingy. Such a good post, thanks so much for sharing! I sent it to a buddy who has her first babe at home now, I know she will love it. :)

Anne Castle said...


A friend of mine just posted on FB a wall photo of a fetus with the words: "will you still be prolife after she's born? Will you apply the same vigor to your work against war, against hunger, against poverty, against homelessness, against our planet's degradation, against capital punishment, for human rights, for opportunities for education and jobs that you do to your efforts to make abortion illegal? If not, please stop calling yourself prolife."

I can't imagine a better response than this blogpost, which so beautifully cuts through the divisiveness and screaming dogma. Well done!

travis pitcher said...

I love you.

Mindi said...

I, too, was left in an apartment for most of the day in Montana, while my husband studied in University. I, too, was left to think during the day or night, in the shower, making dinner, in bed....that I, too, would have to pumble (sp?) someone with a baseball bat or a cooking utensil if they tried coming in and harming me and my child! I'm glad I"m not the only one that has those thoughts, and now that we're out of that apartment and in a different state, and I have another little one about, the thoughts are the same. Do anything, at anytime, with any thing to protect your children! Loved this post!