Tuesday, October 16, 2012

You make me feel like an unnatural woman

I've always felt conflicted about the idea of motherhood. I love kids, but babies scare the crap out of me. They just need you so bad all the time. Isn't this America, land of independence? Come on, babies! Get it together! Do you really want to be part of the 47% of whining, crying freeloaders already plaguing this country, sucking at the not-so-proverbial teat? Because it'd be a whole lot easier for Mom and Governor Romney if you could just start pulling your weight--all eight pounds of it--around here.

I had the vague notion that I wanted a family, but I rather wanted an articulate, semi-independent eight year-old child to spring fully-formed from my loins, reading Proust and asking whether maman would like some chamomile tea.

For years, I struggled with whether or not I wanted to be a mom. Though I've always loved being a woman (The sparkly dresses! Beef jerky and yogurt marketed specially to me! The crazy-close friendships! Making $0.70 to every dude dollar!), I feared that motherhood might mean that my womanness overtook my personness--that I would no longer be "Keija," but instead just a walking uterus (first) and (then) "So-and-so's mommy," Milk Machine extraordinaire over there, leaking through her shirt.

And there were all the books I wanted to write, books that would require solitude and peace and long, idle mornings made solely for "finkin'," as Ali G. would say. As we well know, though, babies are pretty selfish. They don't give a damn about your craft or your sense of fulfillment; they just want you to be boobs out 24-7, ready to meet their every need.

Sounds scary, right? Like all the nightmare relationships you ever learned about on Lifetime television.

Yet for all my internal struggle on the subject of whether or not to become a mom, I capitulated pretty easily. The person I love more than anything in the world looked at me and said, "Want to have a baby?"

I was just wrapping up the book tour for my debut novel and feeling pretty chuffed with myself and on top of things, plus, theoretical babies can be pretty awesome if you don't get too deep in details (mine, on that particular night, had raven-dark hair, was very reasonable, and was called Anastasia).

"Yes!" I trilled, and kissed my Truelove.

My reproductive system was pretty theoretical at that point, too. I hadn't given any thought to my uterus or eggs since 9th grade health class, other than to put the kibosh on the whole operation with the help of a pill wheel I shall affectionately call "Freedom" (shameless plug for truly Planned Parenthood). Fertility was still just some corny word thrown around by women who called themselves goddesses and celebrated the harvest season.

When I found myself pregnant three weeks later, I was totally shocked. I felt like this guy:

Wait wait wait wait wait, hold the phone. You mean these babymakers we have actually work? For procreating and stuff??! After all those seasons of Teen Mom, you think I would have had a clue.

Suddenly, Anastasia was more than theory; she was a mass of dividing cells who would, if all went well, turn into a very dignified, laid-back baby who knew how to change her own diapers. We high-fived our successful effort. For two people who love nothing more than a Saturday morning spent couched out with the New Yorker and listening to Jordi Savall, we were pretty happy about the prospect of morning and night being hijacked by our ladylike baby who would cry only in birdsong.

Now, we know he's a boy, and I'm in my third trimester; we've read a few books and heard from one or two people about the subject of parenthood (wink wink). As my belly grows, I do very much grapple with the fact that my giant, expanding uterus is the first thing people notice about me and want to talk about, and I do very much have anxiety about being so closely tied to my more animal functions through pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood. I've never felt my biology was my destiny; I don't believe all women have maternal instinct, nor that this is what I'm born to do. I was born to be me--to love my friends and family, to explore, to write, to question. Having a child is just another thing that I can do.

A few weeks back, a friend shared this fascinating link with me after I went on a rant about moms who use scare tactics on soon-to-be moms ("Good luck finding any time for your writing after you have kids!"). I discovered with relief that the two writers in conversation--one is a mom and one is childless--articulated many of the complicated feelings I have about motherhood, especially as it relates to my writing and my self-image as a feminist. I appreciate how candid both women are about their judgement of those women who have made different choices from them, as I have often made the same judgements--and am now probably similarly judged by peers who think babymaking is for the crazies.

And it's important to note that the writers in conversation represent just two of the infinite ways in which one can be a woman in today's society, and that notion, too, comforts me. In Women and Writing, Virginia Woolf writes: "And it is significant that of the four great women novelists--Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot--not one had a child, and two were unmarried." Thankfully, due to an ever-expanding definition of womanhood and motherhood, it is no longer the case that women writers must choose between the life of the mind, or domestic life.

I'll close this post by saying that I'm thankful and excited to be able to have a child. I'm proud of what my body has been able to do in pregnancy, and I'm trying to approach the impending experiences of childbirth and motherhood with joy and a sense of adventure. In a few months, my body will be my own again--I'll be able to run and do crazy yoga moves and wear those sparkly dresses I so love. I will be Keija again, she of the single heartbeat--but this time with a really adorable and well-mannered sidekick.


  1. Love your post, Keija, and I relate to so much. . . I know everyone's experience is different, but I found that although I had very little chance to write the first year, the stuff that was brewing all that time ended up being some of the best I ever came up with, and has continued to fuel my work since then. It's surreal because now my kids are 7 and10 and I am becoming a soccer mom--and I love it. Shit, it's Missouri, we have beer at the concession stands at the games! My Los Angeles friends are jeaaaalous. I'm like, why do you even LET your kids play sports? What's in it for you?? Ultimately, I'm enjoying the contradictions--that I can be more fulfilled by motherhood than anything else during this 'season' of life, just as I was more fulfilled by my husband than anything else during that 'season' and now it takes effort just to keep from slapping him upside the head on a daily basis :) No, but seriously, I know there will be another period when we can focus on each other again, just as my writing returned to the forefront of my vision once the kids were in school. And the best part in terms of my feminist ideals: I get to raise kids who (hopefully) realize that girls and women should be ruling the world. Mwah ha ha. . .

  2. Jocelyn, I meant to reply to this great comment ages ago. Thanks so much for reading, and for sharing your (hilarious, insightful) take on the experience!!