Parenting is a constant stream of terror, shrouded in obligations. But, I don’t want to scare anyone off of the idea or anything.
When my son was two days old, the hospital pediatrician made a special visit to my bedside—as I'm sure is standard practice for most doctors of new mothers. She checked to see how I was doing, asked how the baby was eating, and inquired about his sleep habits. Then, she sweetly let me know if I brought my son into bed with me, I would roll over on top of him and smother him to death in his sleep.
"Just don't do it. Awful things that I won't even mention could happen."
More awful than smothering him to death in his sleep? Jesus.
And so it began—the sheer terror of motherhood.
Of course my child ended up periodically sleeping in bed with me anyway. I was breastfeeding and exhausted and he was eating every hour and a half. Occasionally and unavoidably, I would fall asleep. Every single time I fell asleep with him in our bed, I awoke in a panic. Where’s the baby? Where’s the baby? Is he under the covers? Did he fall off the bed? Is he breathing?
Oh my god, the breathing. Somehow, all my friends with children neglected to mention that I would be checking to see if my child was breathing pretty much every single time he fell asleep. I would get home from work and rush to his crib. I wasn’t gazing at him lovingly—I was frantically searching for the rise and fall of his chest. You’d think this kind of frenzied behavior is something that only befalls new mothers—but nope. I just had baby number two and I do it to her, too.
And the terror doesn’t stop as your child moves into toddlerhood—it gets worse. There are more and more things to worry about. Is his food cut into small enough pieces? Can he climb that jungle gym by himself? Will the television scar him irreparably? Is he talking/walking/ socializing on time?
As if these scenarios aren’t bad enough—motherhood also asks you to sprinkle a healthy dose of obligation over your terror and paranoia. Imagine never meeting your own needs first again—can you do that? You better start. It’s pretty much the definition of motherhood.
If a sane person were given the choice between a) sleeping in on a Sunday, reading the New York Times in bed and lazily strolling to a drunken brunch or b) waking at the break of dawn to wipe urine off of another human and embark on yet another day of meeting all of said human’s basic needs, what do you think the sane person would choose? Parenting is a parade of banality. That’s why we’re always arguing about it so much. Ever heard of the mommy wars? Think about it: if we’re going to be putting another person’s needs before our own day in and day out, the least we can be is right about the way we’re choosing to do it.
The funny thing is, I love parenting. I spent years of infertility never thinking I would be able to enjoy it. I now have two beautiful children. Motherhood is quite honestly the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced. I just think we would all be a lot happier if we could admit a few things about it. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s repetitive. And it’s terrifying.
But Mother Nature is smart. She knows this little being is going to come into your life, suck up all of your free time and disposable income, and ruin your boobs. So along with the sheer terror and obligation comes this intense love and joy that you have never felt before. Thank god, because if parenting weren’t the best thing I had ever done, it would totally suck.