Just A Mom
Motherhood was tougher than expected. And unlike with the Navy SEALS candidates there you cannot quit. Where is our battle cry?
Two months after Dexter was born my husband, Kai, celebrated his 40th birthday. A friend who hadn't seen me since my third trimester greeted me with a huge smile.
"Congratulations! What does it feel like being a mother?" Trying to sound more contemplative than tired I responded with just one word: "Raw." A tinge of uncertainty crept into her smile. Clearly she expected something more joyful in nature. But there is nothing joyful about a perineal tear no matter how minor it is. I felt a little bad for putting a dent into her motherhood imagery. She's still young and out there on the dating grounds. Kids were only a possibility for her... someday... probably when renewing her gym membership wasn't much of a priority any more.
In one of those dark hours in which I was deliriously exhausted and close to developing mastitis I was wondering why nobody told me the truth: Early postpartum is brutal. Dex would not latch properly and just gum my nipple until it was shaped like the tip of a rusty fountain pen. "Did you have a hard time when Alba and I were newborns?" I asked my mom almost hopeful on the phone. Say yes. "No, you and your sister were great sleepers. And whenever you woke up your dad would get you, lay you onto my breast and you would latch and feed." I did resent my mom for a little bit there and blamed my husband since I had now proof that Dex' fussiness and inability to latch came from his side of the family.
We do get glimpses of the postpartum truth in movies: the sleepless nights, terrified stressed parents, an inconsolable newborn, the softening mommy bod, a chaotic living space. But watching a storm and being in one are two different things entirely. "Rationally the brain knows that weeks of sleep deprivation suck," said my friend Bo, father of a two-year-old, "but until it experiences weeks of sleep deprivation it doesn't know shit."
Before there was Tully, the movie which represented motherhood, IMHO, was GI Jane. Demi Moore plays a lieutenant who is allowed to become the first female Navy SEALS candidate. She joins BUDS, he training and screening program for Navy SEAL hopefuls. Of course she also has to go through the infamous Hell Week. It is basically a combination of systematic hazing, sleep deprivation, and daily grueling 20 hour physical torment.
More candidates drop out during Hell Week than any other time in their BUDS training. All they have to do is walk up to a bell set up on the beach where they usually train, drop their gear and ring the bell. A former navy SEAL once said in his book that "in Hell Week you are broken apart to be rebuilt again."
Those words would often pop in my sleep deprived brain. Navy SEALs are admired for persevering. For willingly being screamed at and trying to stay calm and being driven to utter exhaustion until they puke. I therefore wonder why parents especially mothers get so little admiration. Screaming and puking is part of our reality as well. Granted we get one day in the year, and there is no such thing as Navy SEALs Day. But in society being a SEAL is held up in such high regards it's enough to identify as such.
"So what do you do?"
"I'm a Navy SEAL."
"Take me soldier, take me now!"
But if you introduce yourself just as mom outside of playdates you get the same look Americans have on their faces when they visit Hong Kong Disneyland aka minuscule Kingdom for the very first time: What? That's it?
Here's my the battle cry: Screw it! Being just a mother is a legit choice. A mother's sweat, blood and tears are as much worth as a Navy SEAL's. And I bet not many of them sport perineal tears. Besides, where, do you think, do all those Navy SEALs came from?