32 Steps on the Rocky and Rewarding Path of Motherhood and Self-Discovery

Friday, May 6, 2016 - 5:30 am

32 Steps on the Rocky and Rewarding Path of Motherhood and Self-Discovery

  1. Experience an actual human growing inside of your body. Have a million thoughts about the strangeness and miracle of that.
  2. Birth that human — an experience that will push you to the very edge, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  3. Feel like a total novice again. Learn one thing every day about how to care for a defenseless creature.
  4. Watch the defenseless creature for signs of an essence emerging.
  5. Be baffled when you realize that humans largely survive this kind of vulnerability, and that mothers throughout history have felt some range of the feelings and sensations you are experiencing.
  6. Write desperate texts in the dark to other mothers. Get immediate replies. Realize that the world is made bearable by this kind of solidarity.
  7. Discover that tiny babies sound like goats when they sleep. And this is normal.
  8. Sing inappropriate songs in lieu of lullabies because you can’t remember any.
  9. Feel anxious and exhausted and invaded and isolated and depleted… and get through it. Feel like a badass.
  10. Be dumbstruck by the appearance of a personality — each little indication of who this little person is is a massive, surprising gift.
  11. Ride shotgun for the discoveries of a lifetime. Listen to her questions. See with her eyes. Rediscover sea otters and purple and band-aids.
  12. (Harmon Li / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

  13. Be edified by physical intimacy unlike any you’ve ever known.
  14. Notice, in her, the “bad behavior” of humanity, unfiltered. Let it teach you about the dark parts of yourself.
  15. Realize that you have nothing to do with any of this.
  16. Realize that there is liberation in the burden of being needed in such a fundamental, relentless way. You no longer spend time wondering if you are necessary.
  17. Notice how things that used to be hard, like saying no or getting up early or using your work time wisely, get far easier.
  18. Notice how things that used to be easy, like laying on a blanket in the park for hours and eating egg sandwiches with friends or being hung over or traveling or losing track of time, get far more difficult. Miss these things.
  19. Feel outrageous, ineffable gratitude for your own mother. Realize you spent half your life taking her for granted and the next half trying to understand exactly who she is apart from you.
  20. Vacillate between not giving a shit how you look and wanting desperately to appear in public without spit up or stickers on your shirt.
  21. Repeat “I am somebody’s mother” in your head over and over and still have trouble catching up to the reality.
  22. (Harmon Li / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

  23. Inherit a stack of parenting books that you never read. Google instead and be repeatedly disappointed by the information the Internet has to offer.
  24. Have at least one business idea related to childcare worthy of a boatload of some venture capitalists money, but no energy to communicate it to anyone. Forget the idea entirely or realize someone already did it.
  25. Get in a shallow, lukewarm bath with a maniac and totally enjoy yourself.
  26. Have a moment, in public, where you communicate this with your eyes to the strangers that walk by and look at you and your child:

    “Today, I don’t care. Today, what you see is what you get. Sorry, not sorry, if that offends you.”

  27. Finally understand what people mean when they say that having a child is like having your heart walk around outside of your body. But also wonder if there isn’t a better metaphor. Is it the heart? Or the lungs, actually? They’re both autonomic — the beating, the breathing — but the latter feels more variable, more visceral. Seeing her suffer feels more like suffocating than dropping dead.
  28. Draw and paint and build and dance and read, and often times find it tedious, but sometimes find it thrilling and remember that you are a creative person.
  29. Have very little time to “make good” on that creativity. Feel tortured by this. And also galvanized.
  30. Think about mortality ten times more than you did before.
  31. Feel profoundly humbled and deeply powerful at the same time.
  32. Become a mother in none of these ways, because it is both the most universal and most idiosyncratic of experiences. Make your own list. Hunt for your own perfect metaphor. Just risk love.
  33. Risk love.
  34. Risk love.
  35. (Harmon Li / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

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is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

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