Monday, February 15, 2010

Murder, Monsters, Mamma Mia, and Motherhood

There is a reason I try not to say things like, "You'll understand when you have kids", other than the fact that it's obnoxious My motivation in avoiding such clichés is that now that I'm a mother, I don't always feel a sense of being let into an exclusive society and finally having access to their secrets, like I thought I would. In fact, in my experience, some of the old standards put pressure on me to feel things that I just...didn't.

For example, that tried and true cliché about looking into your newborn's face for the first time and "feeling a love you never thought was possible" did a fine job of triggering paroxysms of guilt and panic when, in place of that all-consuming love I was meant to feel, was an overwhelming sense of confusion. Maybe it was the drugs, but my foggy head was so busy trying to piece the puzzle together, it didn't really have time to bask in my daughter's glory. In the midst of the "Wait. This is MY baby. It's over? Placenta, what? You're putting stitches WHERE? Oh, right. I have a baby. I should be feeding her. With my boob? Huh?" madness, I had an unsettling revelation:

Love! I'm supposed to be loving her. It's supposed to be core-shaking! Earth-shattering! Where's all the love?

And I didn't cry. I thought I would cry.

In the days that followed, I was so preoccupied with making sure Charlotte was breathing at all times by employing a regimented schedule of staring at her and arranging for someone else to stare at her while I napped, I didn't have time to feel the love! And then there was the jaundice to consider. Not to mention changing the ice packs stuffed down my hospital-issued-granny-panties.

It wasn't until much later and after talking to others about their experiences that I realized I was normal. A friend of mine told me that when they handed her her first son in the hospital, she looked at him, then at the nurse, and said, "What do I do now?". I think that's how we all feel the first time around. And it's normal. And all that fear and anxiety and watching our babies breathe with our hearts in our throats, IS the love.

I digress. My point is that I don't tell people how they will feel or what they will or will not understand when they have kids, because I honestly have no clue. They might greet their new baby with a deluge of love and groovy vibes, and anxiety will be nowhere to be found. Or maybe they will, unlike me, find breastfeeding to be the magical bonding experience of their fantasies. Maybe they won't want to have sex with their husbands for a year, or maybe they'll be marking off with a big, red pen each day on the calendar that stands between them and the six-week green light. Maybe they will co-sleep, or maybe they, like me and Chris, will be at their wit's end and Ferberize the hell out of their kid. There is just no way of knowing.

But, there is one thing that I have found to be a constant amongst the mommies and daddies I know, and that is a marked difference in how one views music, movies, and other media upon becoming a parent. When I was pregnant with Charlotte, I was out with a friend. We had just dropped her kids off at her parents' house where they would be spending the weekend. On the way home, we listened to the Mamma Mia! soundtrack, and when the song Meryl Streep sings about her daughter and how quickly she's grown came on, my friend's finger was already on the skip button. She told me she had a hard time listening to that song, especially when she wasn't with her daughter. I must have nodded and said "Oh" or something equally profound. But on the inside, I was rolling my eyes. Cut to me this afternoon as I hear two notes of the song and promptly change it because I don't want to be forced to think about the day my daughter will grow up and get married, and I REALLY don't want to think about the fact that it will be here before I know it.

I mentioned this phenomena to that same friend after we watched a movie wherein the main character loses her mother as a small child. I found myself fighting tears while watching her clutch her mother's possessions to her heart and other such maudlin gestures, because the thought of not being there for my little girl killed me. My friend told me that she experienced a similar breakdown while watching Titanic. While I was caught up in the Kate and Leo teenage hysteria, my friend had just given birth to her first son, and the image of watching a mother tuck her children into beds on a sinking ship was more than she could handle. I read in a fellow mommy's blog once, that she had sympathy for the Cloverfield monster, once she learned that it was just a baby monster who was looking for his mother.

And then there is my mother, who says that she had to stop reading her beloved True Crime books when she had me. Reading about deceit, lies, and homicide was exhilarating for her. But, as a mommy, every victim in every book became her daughter, and she had to quit cold turkey.

Maybe this is one things all parents can agree on. But, probably not. I'm sure for every person that sees their child's face on the screen of every horror movie, there are five who can easily separate their real life from the lives of those they read about in books or hear about in songs. And, that's just fine.

But, I'm curious as to what you guys think about this topic. If you have kids, did your perceptions change? What surprised you? If you don't have kids, what expectations do you have, and what are you excited/terrified about?

Speak up!


  1. I am with you. I have never been a teary eyed kinda of person. Maybe its the mental exhaustion of taking care of a baby all day- but I find I am much quicker to get caught up in the emotion of what I see in the media now then I was before my daughter was born. It doesn't matter if it is reality or fiction, I just can't brush it off as 'imaginary' the way I once could. Things seem to hit closer to home.

  2. I find that I worry a lot about everything. Things I found to be fun I freak out over like hiking at the American River. If it was just Billy and I it would be fun but with the kids I fear someone falling into the river or attacked by a mountain lion. There are a few movies I watched and liked but I don't ever want to watch them again like Step-mom or Changeling. I think I care more about being a proud American now then I ever was before kids. I found myself getting teary eyed at the kids school playing our national anthem but at the same time I am older and have friends fighting this war and I think of them and their kids. I think everyone's outlook changes to some degree but I don't think people will truly know when or how after kids. I didn't realize till after a few years how much my outlook has changed but yet with somethings they are very much the same. My kids keep me young, there are a lot of songs that we both like and somethings that come out of their mouths just makes me laugh. My oldest just started with the " your momma" jokes but he tells them to Billy and I. My fears, well, there are just too

  3. Well, dude... as you already surmised from my Cloverfield rant as well as just being my friend, i went from being somewhat wimpy before i had the girls to a complete fucking uber-mess after. i guess it's part of the whole mommy experience? i don't know. what i do know is that some of the things that didn't bother me before the girls now have the potential to produce visceral reactions that i never even knew i was capable of. it's crazier than the granny panties!!

  4. I couldn't go camping after I had kids because I needed a door to lock between me and whatever might harm my children. I remember standing on the corner of 17th and Market Streets with you in your pram waiting for the light to change and I could see how a moment's inattention from some driver would hit and kill us. I try not to think about disaster, because my magical thinking leads me to believe it might happen. It's crazy-making, really.

  5. having a daughter opened my eyes to women's rights and opportunities for women. it wasn't a case of not being sympathic before, it was a case of not giving it much thought.

    i remember having a talk about pilots with Kat when she was about 7 and her saying "girls don't do that." I tried to tell her that yes, they do. about that time two things happened. the first was astronaut Eileen Collins became the first female shuttle pilot (she later became the first shuttle commander) and star trek voyager came out - featuring Kate Mulgrew as the captain. I remember Kat saying "there's a new captain - and she's a girl!" as Kat grew up, I made an effort to show her the possibilities out there and to point out role models.

  6. I'm loving the comments. Keep em' coming!

    That's really interesting, Jim. I never thought of having a daughter being a reason for men to become more sensitive to women's rights. That's awesome! She's lucky she had a father to teach her she could do anything.

  7. This was a really interesting entry, and I totally agree with everything you said. Coming from a father's perspective, there are a lot of things we are "supposed" to feel, too, that I just didn't. I'll be completely honest and say that taking care of our son was very very hard on me until he learned to smile, and then everything was fine.

    And I totally agree about the shift in perception of media and whatnot. For instance, there is this one particular foreign horror/thriller movie called "The Orphanage". Now, I definitely love me some horror, and normally I would have gotten really into this movie. Now, I don't know how many of you have seen it, so I won't spoil anything, but that movie CRUSHED me. The ending just... totally destroyed my heart. And the reason I mention this is because I remember thinking the sames things you said, and I KNEW that the reason the movie affected me so much was because I am a father and because of the bond I share with my son. If I wasn't a father, I would have just been like, "Wow... that kinda sucks." But instead, I was bawling and had to run hold my son for a good hour or so afterward.

  8. Totally unrelated but I laughed so hard about the round-the-clock staring to make sure your daughter was still breathing. I was absolutely the same way. Dan and I had to sleep in shifts so that someone was watching K breathe at every hour of the day.

    (I also commiserated with the ice pack and the placenta comment. My midwife said it was time to push again, and I said, bluntly, "No.")

  9. Brooke, I read your comment to my husband, and we both had a good laugh about you saying "No" to pushing. That's awesome!

  10. I had pushed for over three hours. I was D-O-N-E. She did let me rest for a bit before telling me that I didn't really have much choice about the matter.