Love the struggle.

During a long walk the other night, I started thinking about going back to work and what I'd bring with me on that first day. A picture frame with a Noah pic sounded like a good idea and I idly daydreamed about where I might buy a frame and what kind of frame it might be.

My favorite picture frame in the house (though there are not many to choose from) is a simple blue one, woven from some kind of reed, that my sister brought home from Africa for me several years back. I'm sure she would be surprised to hear that, but it's true. It does the job of being a frame without bringing much attention to itself - in it, I have a blurry photo of my sister and me laughing on a trip to France - and the photo is highlighted because the frame is so simple.

There are lots of frame choices for new parents. Tiny feet and hands dot the landscape; words like "my sweet angel" and "our little blessing" frequently appear. All of that makes me feel uncomfortable. It's like, in those frames, a photo of my baby could be replaced by a photo of any other baby in the world... and despite the face inside the frame, it seems to be whispering one thing:

All babies are the same. And, by extension, all mothers are the same.


Let me back up here.

Although I didn't realize it was an anxiety before I gave birth, I now recognize that it was there, the onslaught of pressure about how becoming a mother will change you. There is a lot of verbiage flying around out there about how it will become the defining aspect of your identity, how it will become your primary purpose in life, how you will sacrifice everything for those ten tiny toes, those ten fingers.

After I gave birth to Noah (which was CLEARLY a defining moment in my life! hoo boy.), I waited. I waited to be hit with the rush of chemicals that would send me online shopping at the Hallmark store. I waited and I waited and they never came. I never became someone who wanted a "world's greatest mother" mug (except maybe in cheeky irreverence).

And about three months in, I realized that I was waiting for something that was not coming.

Because I was already sensitive about mothering (Noah's early weight issues and a tough time breast feeding and the like), I let the lack of attraction to these Mom objects convince me that, hey, I shouldn't even BE a mom! If I couldn't get my baby to sleep easily, if I didn't want to drink from the Mother Dearest mug, then I had clearly misstepped. I cried all day for several weeks, astonished that I had ruined my life (and my husband's!) by having a baby, a baby whose fussiness seemed to confirm my lack of talent in the baby arena.

How easy it is today, with slightly more sleep in my system, to see that my decline into Post Partum Depression could have also swung the other way. Instead of believing I was the world's worst mother, I am now so reassured to know that I am still, quite simply, me.

I DIDN'T GO ANYWHERE! I'm still here! Underneath the story of labor, underneath the transformation of boobs to a feeding factory, Jen exists. What kind of mom am I? I'm a Jen mom. Put THAT on a mug.

The massive transformation that I expected (and feared) never happened. Oh, I'm not going to pretend that life isn't different. Life is different. But my identity is still very much in tact.

What an effing blessing THAT is.


Yesterday was our last day at breastfeeding support group for a while. Since Wednesdays will be one of my work days, we won't be able to attend any longer, but that's ok. That group was the pillar of my calendar for nearly 5 months. I left blood, sweat, and tears in that circle (and probably a bunch of baby puke too). By the end, I felt very much at home with those women, many of whom have become friends.

Last night as I lay in bed, I thought about what people had shared yesterday. I thought about how lucky I was to find women who are able to and are interested in discussing the complexities of becoming a mom, the ups and the downs.

I also realized that, if breastfeeding hadn't been an issue for us, I never would have met them.

You know what? I'm HAPPY that it was hard. I'm HAPPY that it hurt, that breastfeeding and mothering has been a difficult transition for me. It made me grittier, it made me less concerned with perfection and more willing to drink a beer over my kid's head. Ultimately I believe that will make me a better mom - and a better Jen.

How effing boring is perfection? It's the struggle and the stains that draw me to people. My favorite stories are those of triumph, of overcoming conflict and of making something meaningful out of the dirt.

Love the struggle. Scrape your knees. Hang up the blurry photo because it expresses a true moment in your relationship with your sister. Let the baby cry in his crib for a few minutes while you compose yourself in the other room.

He is going to be fine. You are going to be fine. More than fine. You are a fighter.

Put THAT on an effing mug.


Rebecca said...

I loved reading this, Jen. I hope you have a great first day back.

Erica said...

Jen, it's so good to hear you sounding like yourself again! I hope that the transition back to work goes well.