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I should be grateful

book of mirrorsVanessa KundermanComment

Ever since I first held my son, when he was still blue and stained with the fragments of labour, I knew I should be overwhelmed with gratitude that this little person existed. That he was able to look at me. That he was healthy. That I was able to hear someone I had birthed say, mama.

I wasn’t supposed to have children. But I didn’t want them anyway, and my doctors told me, “It’s going to be hard for you to conceive.” I had a childhood cancer that had my ovaries radiated and scarred. My fate was sealed.

Sometimes, I sit with my eyes closed, the vein in my forehead bulging and throbbing as I try to block out the “Mama!” cries happening in the other room. I tell myself I should be grateful. I should be grateful this little person exists.

Last year, I peed on a stick and it lit up like the fourth of July. Positive. Pregnant. You’re going to be a mother.

I bawled. I rocked myself behind my bathroom door, pressing myself as far as I could from the little pregnancy test sitting in my bathroom sink. My spouse was over the moon. His excitement felt like a twist to the dagger that sat wedged into my uterus.

The identity that comes with motherhood is not something you can prepare for. There really is no accurate pamphlet. There is no fur-baby or pet that can quite get you wet enough behind the ears.

It’s my first Mother’s Day as a mother. It’s also my son’s first birthday. Last year at this time, I was round and flush, swollen and miserable, and decidedly done being in my third trimester. My pregnancy had been hard. It was marred with complications thanks to the cancer ticket I had earned.

When Hawksley was born, I abruptly went into heart failure. There were so many emotions coursing through me as fluid swirled around my heart, and as my hormones tried to balance out the shock my body had just gone through from pushing a human being free from between my legs.

I should be grateful.

And while a part of me was terrified that I was going to leave my spouse behind to raise a child by himself – that I wasn’t going to get the chance to truly know this new little person – another part of me was wondering, “…Is this it? I never even wanted this, and is this going to be what finally does me in?”

I felt a twinge of shame. But I also felt a twinge of resentment.

I tell myself none of those thoughts were true to me. There were so many chemical reactions happening in my body, so many hormones, drugs, and exhausted emotions that it was impossible to think clearly, especially in the face of death.

And I would know. Death’s face is terrifying. It always has been. It was terrifying at sixteen when we first met, and it was still terrifying at twenty-six.

I often wonder if I’m just a suck; just someone who isn’t cut out for motherhood. I thought cancer made me strong, but maybe it snatched away all my strength.

Does any other mother out there hyperventilate on the other side of her child’s bedroom door when she reaches her limit of listening to baby wallows?

Does any other mother erratically scold her husband when he’s home even just a few minutes past five, and she’s desperate for adult attention?

Does any other mother sob on her kitchen floor, exhausted from wiping counters covered in pureed beef and beats – exhausted from folding never-ending tiny sleepers – exhausted from living in constant filth – exhausted of being exhausted?

In quiet moments, I add up all the difficult moments I was pushed up against in business. Even in cancer. And none of them, not even all of them combined, measure up to how difficult a single year home with my son has been.

I should be grateful.

It’s not that the caring part is particularly grueling. It’s not that I have a colicky or misbehaved child. Hardly. Hawksley is a dream child, and I know that. He’s patient. He does his nights. He eats anything. He even plays quietly.

But motherhood demands a mental endurance that has no preparatory prerequisite.

I wish I could have substituted a few classes in college for a Motherhood 101 course. I wish I could have prepared for the amount of patience and mental strength that is needed to do mindless, spirit-sucking repetitive duties day-after-day. 365 days per year. Alone.

Actually, I would have laughed at such a program if it had been offered to me in college. I wasn’t going to be a mother.

And yes, there are rewards. It’s great when your baby first smiles at you. It’s great when he starts to crawl, and improves at what we call being human beings.

But I just can’t lie around on my floor with my baby day-after-day, waiting for his next improvement. I just can’t rock him for hours while his poor, tiny mouth throbs from cutting his first tooth. I just can’t smile and coo while he’s kicking me, flinging his dirty diapers onto the floor while I try to wrestle him down just to wipe his dirty bum.

I can’t do it all. But I have to. Because I’m a mother.

My own mother is an amazing woman, raising my sister and I alone after my father passed away from cancer when we were little. I used to be so frustrated with her as a young person; so angry that she wanted alone time, or to take a trip without us. I hated when she wouldn’t cook us dinner, or had to work and missed a sports game. I cursed her name when she made me fold my own laundry or said I had to make my own lunch for school.

Now that I’m a mother, I often fantasize about going back to my childhood and helping my own mother out. Sweeping the kitchen floor just because. Maybe even making her a lunch for work. How did she raise two girls without the 5PM relief of someone coming home to help her?

Am I totally pathetic for living for 5PM?

I should be grateful.

Before Hawksley, I was someone who didn’t get it. I didn’t feel any particular remorse for mothers. No pity. No understanding. I thought to myself, “Well, you chose motherhood. You didn’t need to be a mother.”

Of course, I now know that it was impossible for me to understand. Husbands don’t understand. Quirky aunts don’t understand. Those fun single girlfriends don’t understand.

Only mothers understand.

So now, when I see another mother strong-holding her baby down in the shopping cart while she tries to buy a jug of homo milk, I send her love. I don’t berate her because she wanted to be a mother. Besides, maybe she didn’t.

When I see another mother with prunes stained on her shoulder, her shirt tag inside out while she tries to seamlessly transfer her baby into the car seat without waking him, I send her love.

When I see another mother crying in the Starbucks drive-thru while ordering an early morning coffee between the screams coming from the backseat, I send her love.

When I see another mother trying to rock and breastfeed her baby within the safety of a public washroom, away from judging eyes and uncomfortable non-parents, I send her love.

And it’s in the love I send out to other mother’s that I find myself coming into my own motherhood. It’s not for the love of my son. And it’s not for the beautiful family I am growing. But it’s for the other mothers. It’s for the other strong women, trying hopelessly to survive being a mother. It’s for the other mothers trying to learn their new identities while still fulfilling the obligations of parenthood and the obligations of discovering their own personal truths.

And even though just one single day celebrating this incredible feat doesn’t seem like enough, it’s comforting to know that even though the struggle is really, truly, very real, it’s also very empowering to be among such an elite group of unwavering human beings.


Originally written for Our Body Book as an honest look at motherhood. You can find more of my words on their website here.