Today I’m very pleased to have author Paula Bomer as a guest contributor to Postpartum Progress. Her new book, Nine Months, a novel about coming to love the sacrifices inherent in motherhood, comes out this week from Soho Press. Bomer also is publisher of Sententia Books and the editor of Sententia: A Literary Journal as well as a contributor to the literary blog, Big Other. Her collection, Baby & Other Stories, is published by Word Riot Press.
I believe we need to see our lives as narratives, ones with ups and downs, big and small moments. This story of our lives is punctuated with the big moments – learning how to walk, to read, graduations, and first jobs. But all of these moments pale in comparison to giving birth and becoming a parent.
There is no bigger before and after than becoming a parent. Just because it’s “natural” or normal in no way makes the change any less significant, any less traumatic, any less overwhelming.
And yet, there seems to be little empathy for this hugest of all transitions, becoming a parent. More specifically, the enormity of becoming a mother, of carrying a child inside our own body, giving birth, and then taking care of this unknown being, this slowly forming person that needs constant care, until he or she doesn’t, is wrapped up in so much bullshit coming from all sides that we, as a society, can’t admit that this hugest of life changes is huge, is hard. It’s a new life, but that means there’s the loss of an old life, maybe one that you sort of liked.
I was twenty-seven when I got pregnant and newly engaged. I was tending bar at a very cool, little restaurant in the East Village of New York, serving drinks to the likes of Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi and the fantastic New York avant garde performance artist Diamanda Galas. When not tending bar, I was getting my degree in Creative Writing at City College in Harlem and of course, writing fiction, working very hard at it, and dreaming of a becoming an author.
My first pregnancy was an accident, but there were two things I wanted in life — to write and to have children — so the shock was joyful. But I often think those of us who want it badly, as I did, have the hardest time. If you go into motherhood with some doubt, perhaps the hardships of it seem more normal. Idealization never seems to help with anything, sadly, marriage and motherhood being no exceptions.
Having my children is the most profound thing that I’ve done in my life and profundity doesn’t mean “Great!” It doesn’t mean anything as simple as pure joy, although the exquisite joy one takes in one’s children is unlike anything. It is better than the best orgasm, the finest wine, the perfect oyster. But so much is lost in those first few months, even years, and there seems no place to mourn those losses.
First, one loses the simple bond of two, the bliss of being a couple. Now, you are three, a triangle, a strangely unstable relationship. My love for my husband was never stronger sharing the birth of our son, and never was it more tested. There is a death with every birth- the death of coupledom, and then, if you have more children, the death of the family that was to make room for the new family formed by each addition. I had to come to accept that mourning the losses that come with birth in no way makes one an unloving mother or a bad person.
And yet, for the most part, we are “supposed” to hide any sadness and only be grateful. I’m more grateful for my children than for anything else in my life, but that doesn’t mean that when they first entered into my life, everything was all roses. I missed eating in peace. I missed peeing in peace. I missed reading and writing at will. I missed my job as a bartender, which I was lucky, in some ways, to quit, but I missed staying up until four in the morning in a smokey bar (you could still smoke in bars back then), surrounded by decadent and interesting adults.
Certain things I gave up without any looking back. I gave up caring about the latest art house movies. I gave up, for the most part, smoking. I dropped a lot of friends that were assholes because, after having a kid, time is precious and who has time for assholes anymore? But the things I missed, I missed badly. And I wanted to miss them publicly and not get dirty looks for it. My great consolation for all my sadness, for the lack of support I felt, is that now, later, I care a great deal less what people think of me as a mother. And I have my wonderful children to thank for that.
~ Paula Bomer