I’ve been really thinking about the statement that so many moms utter when you ask how they’re doing with their babies.
It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
And this strikes me as so odd. Somehow I don’t really see the “worth it” part yet. There isn’t a lot of payoff for me, and although it’s gotten a bit easier, I’m still not entirely convinced it’s a decision I would make again. I don’t regret my decision, but I don’t know if I would do it over or again.
My mountain man and I often talk about it, at the end of the day, when we’re tired and trying to fall asleep. We look at the clock and think “OK, if I fall asleep RIGHT NOW I can get 6 hours of sleep, assuming the Pie doesn’t keep us awake”. And we know she will. And I tell him that I don’t know if I would make this choice again – that I don’t know if I’m willing to have another baby.
I know, that’s kind of jumping the gun. And I know that once the Pie is two or three and not a little babe anymore I may need to have a baby in my arms again. But if I am able to remember how it is now, I’m not sure I’ll be willing to do it all over again.
And it’s not that I’m depressed – I get through the day, there are even happy moments, but most of the day is just an attempt to get through a to-do list. It’s actually a rather unhappy existence. I don’t have friends near me, I am isolated with a baby and don’t see other people most days (even sometimes for days or a week at a time, unless I go to the grocery store). I never have a break and I haven’t done anything fun for myself (alone or just with the mountain man) since our anniversary in September. And I’m not really complaining – I chose this. I could have chosen to go back to my office job, put the Pie in daycare, formula feed so that I didn’t have to be the one to do every feeding, hire a babysitter, go out more. But it’s just not how things have panned out, and not what I have chosen. It’s important to me to be home with the Pie, to not have her in daycare, and I am so thankful that I was able to take on a small job working from home. But when I don’t have the opportunity to step away from the day-to-day drudgery of it, it’s hard to understand what “worth it” means.
I certainly have fleeting moments of contentment and happiness with the Pie, and she makes me smile & laugh, and I like how she watches me so intently and looks to me for assurance and comfort. But I don’t get a lot of validation from my day-to-day experiences. I can’t say that I’ve accomplished anything, that I solved anything, that I improved anything, or that I had a payoff. I can’t stand back and look at something that I worked for come to fruition. It’s just an never-ending task.
I’m not going to say “Don’t get me wrong, I love my kid” because I hate that statement and I don’t need to minimize my discontent with a validation that I do, in fact, love my baby. But I think this is one of those things that I will have to struggle through, with occasional moments of bliss, a lot of moments of unhappiness, and at the end of my life think that it was worth it, the best thing I ever did.
So what makes people say that it’s worth it now, when they’re in the middle of it? What is worth it? Am I missing the gene for appreciating my circumstance? Are other people getting more personal validation from changing diapers and wearing dried spit-up? Are people better able to stand back and look at themselves than I am? I’ve always been very introspective, but in this case I can’t step away from my situation and see it with some distance of perspective.
I hear mamas say that they are grumpy, unhappy, having a bad day, and then their baby smiles or says something cute and it all “melts away”. I don’t have that melt moment. I have a moment of guilt seeing my baby try, the only way she can, to improve my situation in order to get better care. I feel guilty that my baby encounters a crabby or dissatisfied mama and has to take it upon herself, using tools that evolution has given babies to ensure good care, to turn my mood around so that I can continue to care for her. But it doesn’t work. My dissatisfaction doesn’t magically dissipate when the baby smiles. There are still dirty diapers to be washed, dinner to be cooked, showers to be fantasized about.
And really – if it weren’t the case that mamas easily became dissatisfied and unhappy in general, why would babies be programmed with the skills to remind moms that they are cute and loveable? If babies were not such a burden, would they have the ability from birth to make us think they love us? The “cuddling” instinct, “smile” grimaces, cooing, big eyes and mouths, general cuteness – these things are all evolutionary protections built into babies when they are most needy. But come to think of it, if babies are instinctually able to do these things, that means that they’re supposed to work on the mamas for more than just the flash of the smile. So maybe I’m just impervious to baby tricks.
In the scope of human history, mamas are more isolated and overwhelmed now and in American culture than ever before or anywhere else. Being alone with a baby all day long, being almost solely responsible for her unceasing needs, while trying to retain some sense of self is not an equation for happiness. Interestingly, there isn’t postpartum depression in village-oriented cultures. There aren’t moms at home alone, with pots boiling over on the stove and babies crying and laundry piled up, feeling overwhelmed and out of control. People are around to help mamas – they aren’t alone. So by this argument, those evolutionary, innate protections against poor care shouldn’t be necessary. If a mama is overwhelmed, there should be a village full of other women to help her care for her baby. And in most of human history there has been.
So what is it that makes it worth it to these mamas, in the thick of it? Are they really more positively affected by these smiles than I am? Am I just impervious to the baby’s innate ability to turn a mama’s mood? Or are moms saying this to try to convince themselves that they are happy, to reinforce the idea that they know that at the end of it all, they will think it’s worth it?
And today is my birthday, which I hadn’t thought much about in the days leading up to it. It was just another day on the calendar filled with feeding, laundry, dirty diapers, spit-up, play time, nap routines, cooking dinner, errands. But last night I was thinking about what I had envisioned my 30th birthday to be, before I had the Pie. I didn’t think I wanted to have kids until after the mountain man and I were married. Really I wasn’t convinced that I wanted kids, even at our wedding. And then biology took over, and even though my head said no my instinct to procreate said YES.
I had always pictured myself, the urbanite that I was, spending my 30th birthday in a dark, hole-in-the-wall faux-swanky bar like my dearly beloved and sorely missed Chez Gaudy, having a drink and appetizers with my friends at candle-lit tables, and rolling our eyes at the snarky hipster waiters in their tapered-leg jeans and their too-tight ironic t-shirts, rocking whatever version of facial hair was in vogue for people with college degrees trying to look working class to fit in with their low-wage job and the accepted falsehoods of their neighborhood. (Oh hello, Capitol Hill.) But maybe this day, and how the day is so different from what I had envisioned it to be, is making me think more about what “worth it” means, and what it is, and where I can find my “worth it”.
Things have gotten easier – but I still am not convinced yet that it’s “worth it” on a day-to-day scale. I wouldn’t want to be without family as I age, but plodding through the daily grind isn’t satisfying. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been able to give up by desire to keep a sense of my former self alive. If I am unwilling to limit my identity to my role as a mother, can I be fully satisfied with my choice to be a mom? And being an at-home, babywearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping mom only makes me spend more time being a mom and less time being who I was. Can I be happy with these choices when my day consists of so little of my self if I am not willing to set my self aside?
I’m not convinced that it’s worth it, but I am pretty sure that it will be.