…was six years ago.
I had been a mother for exactly two months, and I was right in the throes of motherhood shock and the worst sleep deprivation I had ever experienced.
I was struggling with nursing, but determined (in part personal desire, in part societal pressure) not to give up. My nipples were bleeding, and the hunger cries of Fred every 2 hours brought images of razor blades. I came to dread hearing his relentless calls for food and hated myself for hating to feed my own child…I would read Dr. Sears’ chapter on relaxing and savoring the bond with our babies during nursing and wonder what critical maternal gene I was missing.
I was living in a Japanese surburb, staying home on a one-year maternity leave from my company. For the first time I realized I had no one to talk to during the day, or the night for that matter (see next paragraph). I realized that sleep deprivation + a foreign language + loneliness did not make me a happy mother. There was no park within walking distance and Fred and I spent our days hanging out at the local supermarkets and discount baby store, when I wasn’t entertaining the unannounced visits by my mother-in-law…
I missed my husband that first Mother’s Day. In the weeks leading up to Fred’s birth, Max’s company began a major restructuring. He was asked to head up a second department in addition to the one he was already running. He left the house at 7 each morning to begin his 70-minute commute and came home between 12:30 – 1:00 a.m each night. Often it made more sense for him to simply sleep in a hotel or in the office, but he made it a rule to always come home and help where he could. On Mother’s Day he left a L’Occitane bath gel gift set and a card for me on the dining table. For the coming year, I would bask in these citrus scents in the shower, trying to drown out the imagined crying that lingered in my ears long after my muscles had let go in the steam.
I spent many hours a day on the internet, becoming more and more addicted to the chat forums for young moms. I e-mailed other mom friends who were excited I had joined the club but who were too busy with their young children to write at length. “Gotta go – xxx is crying!” was how most correspondence ended. More than once I picked up the phone to call someone but hung up with doubts. They’ve got enough on their hands without having to play therapist, I would think. I don’t want to call and start crying…I don’t want to sound like I don’t love being a mother.
My heart would drop like a rollercoaster and then start beating with fear whenever Max kissed me good bye and the front door closed behind him in the mornings. I would imagine the next 15-16 hours alone with this infant whom I loved in theory but barely knew. My thoughts would race forward to all potential disasters: what if he throws up, what if he falls, what if he spikes a fever, what if I throw him against the wall – what would I do? How will I get help? In the midst of panic, will I be able to remember our address in Japanese, let alone explain my situation to an emergency operator? I would wonder, if I love my baby so much – if I am his mother – why do I feel fear when I am with him? Why do unspeakable images try to fight their way into my head?
My first Mother’s Day was a celebration I felt proud to finally be a part of. Like Hall of Fame inductees I imagine, or Academy Award or even Nobel Prize winners, I couldn’t quite believe that I would be the one people (alright, my husband) would be paying attention to on this second Sunday in May. Am I deserving? Am I really up in there in the ranks of my mother and those who’d gone before her?
I would get my answer slowly in the years to come, as I watch my little boy grow from a quiet and inobtrusive baby into an inquisitive and compassionate young person. And now, on the eve of my sixth Mother’s Day, I can comfortably look back and say to that young mother: You passed with flying colors; you were deserving. It may be your habit to focus more on what you should have done or could have done, but on this Mother’s Day, sit back, enjoy your family, and know that you’ve done well.
Happy Mother’s Day to all my fellow mothers and mother figures, especially to all the new moms 🙂