When she becomes a mother, it is as if a woman must go deep in the bowels of the earth, back to the elemental emotions and the power which makes life possible, losing herself in the darkness.
Instructions for living a life
Tell about it
Last year at this time, I wrote about craving simplicity. Cadel was just 6 months old at the time, and the chaotic transition to motherhood had left me tired and contented just to be: to learn as best I could how to care for him–and myself, with what time was left–and not to worry too much about anything else. I would figure out the details when things settled down, I thought.
Then, over the past year, I learned the truth that every mother realizes sooner or later: “things” don’t ever settle down. In fact, most days I’m not even keeping up. Babies grow fast and learn just as quickly–much more quickly than the adults who care for them, it would seem. Some days I think that by the time I’ve learned all I need to, Cadel will have already moved out of the house. And now, simplicity seems, well…too simple. Motherhood is anything but.
This year I’m craving answers. So maybe it’s not about keeping up anyway. But what is it about, motherhood? Regret is a terrible game to play, but I could say that I should have pondered this question while Cadel was still tucked neatly away in my belly. Yet who has the time to think about life with a baby when you’ve got a birth to prepare for, right? It’s a rigorous course of study these days, pregnancy is. And study I did–I read at least half a dozen books, learned about various techniques and exercises and philosophies regarding pregnancy and birth preparation, and I read many many birth stories, which proved to be the greatest preparation tool. In hindsight, it seems completely ludicrous that we can spend so much time preparing for one day when we have nearly a lifetime of days after that in which we will never be the same. But then again, maybe it is not possible to comprehend what cataclysmic changes are there, on the other side of the fence. If you ask my husband about the birth of Cadel, he will tell you that we totally aced it, that it went perfectly, that we executed our plan like the hard-core birthing machines that we trained to be. We saw our birth as though it were an athletic event–like, say, a marathon– something difficult but that we could succeed at if we trained properly and put our minds to it.
There was one expectant mom in our prenatal class who expressed a real worry of dying during birth. I remember the day she raised her hand and sheepishly posed the question plainly: “Could I die?” Travis thought this was laughable, pointing to all of the medical technology that acts as a safety net and wondering, how could anyone be afraid? I sort of agreed, though deep down that question haunted me some of those uncomfortable pregnant nights. And now her question doesn’t silly or frivolous at all–rather, it cuts right to the heart of the matter. I think birth necessarily involves a kind of death; it is a portal through which a woman must pass, emerging not as her former self but as a mother. I’m not sure if this is why I indeed felt as if I were dying–surely there are those women who claim their births were nothing more than “surges” or “waves” of pressure, and who is to tell them their experience cannot be true?–but it makes sense to me now that this outward feeling of dying was a primal symbol of the death of my former self and the simultaneous birth of my new self, along with my little wrinkly, red, beautiful newborn baby.
But of course I didn’t realize this at the time. I felt like someone who had survived a shipwreck, weary and weathered but so happy to be alive that I didn’t much care what deserted island I’d landed on. This giddy feeling lasted for many months, buoyed as I was by the sheer joy of having given birth to a healthy baby. But sooner or later, the thought that I might not ever get off this island sprouted like a tiny seed inside of me and eventually began to grow large like a weed until I could no longer ignore it. Silently, I became like Tom Hanks in Castaway, and my former self like Wilson, at that point when Wilson is drifting out to sea and Tom Hanks’ character screams so desperately, “WILSON! WIIIIIIIILSON!”.
To become a mother entails a real identity crisis, particularly for those of us who’ve come to the island in this age of information, nearly drowning in a sea of books, websites, and magazines selling the idea that you can (do they mean should?) get back to “normal” after having a baby, and fast. It is, supposedly, really quite easy, as long as you follow their various formulas to a tee. In fact, if you read too much, you’ll be expecting to soon find yourself walking down the beach on an impromptu Mexican vacation in a string bikini, looking even younger and fitter than before you got pregnant, and you’ll barely remember that you have a baby, because your baby will sleep pretty much all the time, make little noise, eat piles of vegetables, and grow to become a toddler who shares his toys with the grace and humility of Gandhi. All of which will allow you to get back to your life.
This is either really awesome or really scary news, depending on your point of view. But I think the worst part is that all of these gimmicks serve to tragically undervalue the mother–this brand new person–and her work in the world. If the goal is to make our babies as convenient to us as humanly possible so we can hurry back to our former lives, of what value is this name, “mother”?
I want to be comfortable in my own skin. I certainly didn’t take on this mothering gig to see how well I could follow directions. I’m craving answers, real answers, not to be found in a book by any baby expert or parenting guru. But I need to find the right questions first. Last year I skirted the edge, but now I’m deep in the dark forest of motherhood, in the “bowels of the earth,” as it were. My days still involve quite a lot of being, but this year I am also becoming. I may be stuck on this deserted island but I am still happy to have this new lease on life, and my little guy keeps me hopeful.
Really Delicious Pumpkin Muffins
I adapted this recipe from a pumpkin muffin recipe posted by a mom on Food52. She calls her version “birthday pumpkin muffins” because she makes them for each of her family members on their birthdays. Serve plain or with softened cream cheese. I think the brown rice flour and almond meal give these muffins a more tender and pleasing texture, but if you do not have these, they will turn out just fine using 2 cups all-purpose flour.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp baking powder
scant 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
2 tsp grated orange zest (optional)
1/2 cup brown sugar, not packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup milk
1/3 cup oil (such as olive)
1/2 cup canned or homemade pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla (optional, but recommended if you are omitting the orange zest)
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
large handful raisins
Butter muffin pans to hold 13 muffins or line with cupcake papers. Preheat the oven to 400F. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the first 11 ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, oil, pumpkin, and vanilla, if using. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently stir together until nearly combined. Stir in nuts and raisins. Fill muffin cups about 3/4 of the way and bake muffins for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly before carefully removing. Serve warm or room temperature.
Muffins will keep well for several days in a closed container.