Today, while I was hunched over the drawing board, deep in my work, the mailman pushed the latest copy of Cookie magazine through our mail slot. (Does anyone else love that magazine?) I didn’t discover it until hours later when, taking a break from work, I curled up on the couch to read. Flipping to the literary section, I opened to a wonderful illustration of a frightened child drifting in what appears to be a flimsy box on top of a dark, roiling sea. The section, written by mother and author Eyelet Waldman, lists several books she recommends for moms, all of which explore the darker and more fearful realms of motherhood.
In her reviews, she touts the bravery of mothers/authors who are able to break through their own walls and lay open their most tender and vulnerable innards, their darkest hearts and their worst fears.
I have my period this weekend — always a weak spot for me, both physically and mentally. These are the two days out of every month when my skin is the thinnest and my emotions perilously close to the surface. So I thought... Why not?
This might be a good time to cop to my own greatest fears about motherhood.
- Waldman’s reviews are concise and beautifully stated, and she has hit on a couple of my hot buttons. One thing she mentions, and for which I give her a lot of credit, is that she herself has written about the fact of loving her husband more than her child. This is a big one for me, because (you may have noticed) I love my husband very deeply. Although we’ve been together for six years, we have only been married for a year and a half and are technically still newlyweds. So yes, I do have a fear of loving my husband more than my child. It seems wrong somehow, and yet it seems right. As a couple, we need to maintain our own love and respect for one another as a top priority - not only for ourselves, but for the sake of our child. We will be, after all, her example - her standard of a loving and functional relationship.
- Directly on the heels of that fear comes another, equally as daunting: that I might love my child more than my husband.
My marriage has turned out to be the biggest surprise in my life so far, and consequently my greatest ongoing wonder. Its joy and its power and its unfaltering comfort are with me every day, and this is something I don’t want to lose. My hope is that our combined love for our child will actually add to the wonder and strength of our marriage, and make the two of us larger by the addition of another. But we have been warned (by those who care about us, and value our union) of the pressures that a child can put on a marriage. I know that the warnings are well-meant, and I know that some people fear that, by taking on a special-needs adoption, we could be putting the security of our marriage at risk. I don’t believe that this is the case. We are two strong and grounded people, we know what we’re taking on, and we aren’t taking it lightly. I believe this adoption will only make us stronger and more tightly bonded. But I’m human, and I know that we will face enormous challenges, challenges the impact of which I can’t yet imagine. In my weaker moments I worry that these challenges will dissolve the intensity of the joy we have now in our lives.
- Another good point that Waldman brings up is a mother’s loss of identity. She really touched a soft spot in me by mentioning the novel The Awakening (first published in 1889) by Kate Chopin. This is a book that I discovered at the tender age of 18, and which had an enormous impact on my psyche. It was really the first book that caused me to become fiercely protective of my own identity and my independence as a woman. I truly believe that The Awakening set off a train of thought in me which lead to the failure of my first marriage. By that time (at the age of 24) I had convinced myself that nothing could compel me to give up my identity either for a husband or for children. I had such a great aversion to the possibility of giving my independence up for others in my life that I had become incapable of truly bonding with my husband or of forming a family with him. I should not, at that point, have agreed to marry, but I did, and we both suffered the consequences.
That aversion to commitment was formed by fear, my own fear that someone else might take away my identity and my independence. I did not understand, at the time, that there was another way: that one could exist in a partnership and in a family without “losing” onesself to that family.
By the time I met and married my current husband (nearly two decades later) I had come fully into my own identity, and realized that there was no danger of my being consumed by someone else’s persona. I was much more confident, and much less fearful. The fact that I no longer feared losing myself allowed me to open myself completely to another person. Hence the success of my current marriage.
My hope is that that confidence, that fuller understanding of myself, and that acceptance of my husband as his own person within our marriage, will also allow me to open myself up as easily to the unique identity of our child, and that I will be able to move into that relationship without fears or barriers, without either losing my own identity or trying to control or impose myself upon the individual identity of our child.
- Remaining on the subject of husbands and wives, one of my greatest fears is that our daughter will attach instantly to my husband and not to me. M. is a magician with children. He’s famous for it. He’s gregarious, warm, and a natural entertainer. The kiddos love him instantly and universally. I, on the other hand, do not have a natural way with the little ones. I was an only child and grew up among adults, with few other children in my environment. I’m also a loner and an introvert.
I am lucky to have the love and adoration of our niece, V. - but our niece is a free spirit and a very self-confident child. She is also eight years old - old enough to admire me for my independent spirit rather than for my entertainment value. I am not the Pied Piper of all toddlers - far from it. My husband knows this, and hopes that Flynn will attach to me first and foremost. But the reason that he hopes for this is that he knows that it would devastate me to be turned away. He know that he’s tougher, that he can handle it, that he can wait his turn to win her over - and this also makes me feel ashamed and insufficient.
- Finally (and this is the most trite of fears), I fear that I will not be a natural mother. We all want to be one of those people who say “I knew the moment I saw her/him that he/she was my child, and that we were meant for each other”. But most of us in the adoption community have heard the other kind of story as well. We have heard of the mothers who feel alienated and disconnected from their child in the beginning. Selfishly, I don’t want that to be me. I want the instant connection, the instant love, the feeling that I would give my life for this little person from here on out. I know logically that this might not be the case, and I only hope that, if so, I will have the grace, patience and courage to wait it out and learn to love, right alongside my child, who will also (one hopes) be learning to love me in return.
My gut feeling is that I will be a good mother, that I will bond with our daughter as tightly and as easily as my mother bonded with me. I sense that motherhood will come to me as instinctively as web-spinning comes to a spider (yes, I’ve still got Charlotte’s Web on the brain). My feeling is that my daughter will be the one thing in my life that I will look out for instantly, naturally and always, before myself. If that means I have to give up a bit of myself, then so be it. I know I will still be me.
And I also know that I could be wrong. I could be barking up the wrong tree. Life is always capable of throwing you a curve ball at the least expected of moments.
If my worst fears come to light, if I have to change my outlook, if the compass of my life swivels in a new direction, I only hope that I am flexible enough and strong enough to face whatever comes with grace, honesty and humility.