Saturday, November 15, 2003

I was 23 years old when I was pregnant with my first child. Innocent as a child myself, I thought having a child meant rocking the cradle to the tune of " Rock a Bye Baby." Or that I would bring the new baby to the mall and parks and to our annual family vacation, where everyone would admire my new maternal glow.

In childbirth, under long and intense labor, I did not feel alone. I remember feeling shocked that there was a real living baby at the end of this ordeal, part of which involved a caesarian Section. When they put the baby in my arms, I couldn't make anything fit: I was all elbows and tensed shoulders, and my son wasn't the least interested in nursing --the sharing ended here. I remember the moment of numbness of pain and the gamut of emotions that I felt. Although we shared a lot of things I believed that this was one experience that I would have to do alone.

The staff moved me to a regular hospital room. I think I made a mistake when I asked them to give the baby to me. Being weak, hungry and tired, I struggled to rise whenever my son a cried, and my little son cried for hours. The wearier I became, the more loneliness yielded to terror. I had no idea how to feed him, even bathe him or even hold him. It looked so easy, witnessing other moms do what they had to with so much simple grace. Thinking that when my son came along it would be easy as well, I was in for a surprise.

When I came home, my family made time to welcome me and the baby. My husband took a week off. My sister in law stayed for a day. But soon enough everyone had business to attend to, and at his or her departure I struggled to learn what mothering really is. I always knew that I was willing to learn but the question remained: What made me such a failure at this mothering business?

All that year, I would cradle my son in my arms at home, before I left for the office or as soon as I got home after work. If I wasn't with my sweet baby my head would tilt back with that same dizzy happiness just thinking of him. And much of the rest of the time I battled the motherhood guilt: that I should be taking care of him. But I kept reminding myself that it was not my choice to leave a newborn baby in the care of others.

I despaired that I would find a way to do something with my time while my son was asleep. The minute the baby's eyes closed, I sat down in front of the computer and wrote without so much as a blink to collect my thoughts. Sometimes I was so tired when my baby slept that I longed to sleep myself. Sometimes, eating my lonely lunch, I pictured myself in a big house my son with a yaya in a uniform and bringing him to me only for breastfeeding doing all the things that I was supposed to do. While smiling at myself I'd suddenly hear a loud wail that would jolt me back to reality.

My sweet mother in law would sometimes tease me that she'd be willing to take care of my son. The catch was she lived far away from where we lived. Call it crazy or attribute it to post partum depression, but I entertained the notion for all of three seconds. What would jolt me back to reality? My son's sweet smile, offered with his uncanny possessive stare.

I wrote an article and I sent to a local newspaper, not even hoping that they would publish my article. But they did: it even came out on our anniversary. There it was. I was a writer and I was a mother. For the first time, I understood the connection of this relationship. Before motherhood, I had tried so hard to write but nothing came out of it. After motherhood, I worked whenever I could. Realizing that I actually had something to say, I now understood that there was so much material I could use because of the experiences I didn't have before I had my son.

Nothing saddens me more than hearing one mother compare herself to another and think herself better than the other mothers for the way she has tried to work out the balance of child and self and work in those early mothering years. Motherhood is a work in progress some of us are actually good at domestic jobs and still keep their careers. Some of us feel like they live in the kitchen, while others feel like going to the kitchen will actually drive them crazy. There are those who space out, and others who want to go on. Some of our children need us to be fulfilled in what we do, and some of our children need us to put our careers on hold for a few years and attend to them. It seems to me that we should celebrate all kinds of mothers. Mothers aren't perfect. I always think that mothering is caught and not taught.

In my moments of solitude I thought that motherhood was keeping me from myself, but again and again that first year my child reminded me that motherhood helped to me deepen sense of self.