He won’t call me mama, and the weight of loving

After a few nights of teething fueled, leg flailing non-sleep, Ben woke up in a surprisingly stellar mood. Most nights (get off my back already) he ends up in our bed between 3 and 4 in the morning. This doesn’t really bother us if he can HOLD STILL, WHICH HE NEVER DOES BECAUSE HE’S A TODDLER. We’re suckers for the snuggles, but we’re also freaking exhausted and aren’t capable of anything more involved than bringing him to our bed in the middle of the night. Sleeping with a flopping fish isn’t exactly easy, but it is possible. That’s what I tell myself. Fake it ’til you make it. Or something. I don’t actually believe that. But I like to pretend I do.

Instead of waking up under his usual cloud of fog, he was immediately ready to go. He flopped around for a minute, smothered me in a few very wet kisses, and crawled over to pat the dog. The he stood up, threw his arms up and cooed “Da-da!” at Quinn. Side note: Ben has yet to call me mama after doing it exactly twice several months ago. As far as his baby brain is concerned I am still merely an extension of him, not an autonomous being unto myself. Everybody else is a separate entity, but I exist to be an anchor point in the sea of childhood. Ever-present, stable, sturdy, covered in strange growths.

Wait. No.

It’s kind of a heavy burden to bear, isn’t it? Being the center of someone’s world. There’s a constant pressure of never wanting to let them down, never wanting to see them hurt or sad or in need. It’s like universe is telling us, No pressure, but the emotional well-being of this small human depends entirely on you and whatever small village you can cobble together to help you.

There’s a well-meaning saying about having to love yourself before you can love other people. This is an unfair statement. It tells us (unintentionally, but nonetheless) that we don’t deserve to love unless we first can find ourselves worth loving. This is a cruel thing to tell people. I speak from personal experience that this way of thinking is, by and large, misguided bullshit.

Here’s the thing: in allowing myself to love others, I am better able to find reasons to love myself. In allowing myself to take on the weight of caring for another human life, I have opened myself to a range of emotions I hadn’t experienced before becoming a parent. There’s a sense of being secure in my abilities that wasn’t there before. The people I love — my kid, my husband, my friends, and even my dogs — inspire me to be better, to take better care of myself. I am absolutely, 100% capable of loving others even when I don’t love myself. There’s a quote I like much better, that doesn’t tell you that you have to have reached a certain level of acceptable mental status before you’re deserving of love:

By compassion we make others’ misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also.

– Thomas Browne

Something to think about.

Lies people told me while pregnant.

Since you’re in your 30s expect it to take at least a few months to get pregnant.

Sushi will hurt your baby. And wine. And cold lunch meat. So will brie, and all the other delicious soft cheeses. Actually, anything that isn’t gluten-free, non-gmo, certified organic and veggie-based will hurt your baby. But you should absolutely be having cravings.

No, you don’t look fat. No, you don’t look like the dwarf women from The Hobbit movies.

You shouldn’t lift that.

There is no safe way to exercise when you’re pregnant.

It’s cute how huge your belly is. Your pregnant waddle is also cute.

You definitely have the hips to naturally birth that almost 10 pound baby.

You should go into labor in the next 24 hours just as soon as I do this very uncomfortable, painful thing to your cervix.

Okay, now you should go into labor in the next 24 hours just as soon as I do this very uncomfortable, painful thing to your cervix again.

A regular dose of narcotic pain medication will numb the c-section pain enough for you to be walking by the end of the day.

No, nursing doesn’t hurt. Nursing will help you lose the baby weight more quickly. Nursing is a magical experience.

You will definitely have time to write during your maternity leave.

You’ll learn how to live with a permanent sleep deficiency.

Maybe it’s just me, but pregnant women are treated in a way that feels very… old-fashioned.

Regressive. I mean regressive.

Here’s what people seem to forget: people with uteruses have been having babies for quite literally hundreds of thousands of years. The uterus, and the body attached to it, was designed by nature to be a formidable, durable life-sustaining machine. The body is capable of carrying on with a majority of normal daily activities while nurturing the life inside it.

It probably doesn’t help that I live in the South. While I did end up in a liberal pocket in north Texas, there’s still an undercurrent to social mores that show that the outdated men are men and women are women ideal is still ingrained in the social consciousness.

Like being called honey when your male partner is referred to as boss. Like asking for the check at dinner, and repeatedly seeing it handed to said male partner.

It’s wonderful that so many men get to feel even more like men when they refuse to let a pregnant woman carry something that weighs more than a checkbook. Blessed is the womb of the mother or whatever.

I mean, blessed only during pregnancy, obviously. The expectation that American women return to work, on average, within 10 weeks (which is generous— one quarter of American women return to work within two weeks) is a whole other can of worms for another time.