To have or have not
I marvel at motherhood from a distance. I have always been fascinated by it. I have gone back and forth for some time now, on if I want to have children or not. If one should, what the “point” is, what the meaning behind it is, why we decide to create little beings out of ourselves. I have read enough literature on motherhood and child development and relationships that it has made me pause and reflect on the paramount job that is to be a mother. It is one of the most complex subjects, perhaps because it is the thread that shapes us all, good or bad. I started to ask myself if I wanted to be the reason a child feels such burden, sadness, happiness etc. I am afraid of having that much control and responsibility for someone. I am also afraid of commitment, planting my feet in one place. I am constantly itching to leave, to avoid some problem or emotion. The emotions I don’t want to stay, so I try to outrun them. I am afraid of what my identity will be once I have children.
My own relationship with my mother has always been difficult. We have always had different view points and as she says, I have always been strong. Meaning, my personality has always presented itself as a wall rather than a flower. I have always wanted to be a flower, gentle. I have a strong defense always up, my opinions are strong, and what I perceive as right or fair has always been strong. I have always been unafraid to speak up. I push back, I fight. I have been the only one of my siblings to stand alone and fight. They think I am mean, or blunt, but I fight with tears in my eyes because it hurts to be the one who stands up for what is right alone. I guess I should start with me as an infant, rejecting my mothers milk. I would close my mouth as tight as I could when it came time to breastfeed me. Shaking my head, and pushing my mother away. I was the first to reject her, maybe it was then that our relationship started on a different plane than the others. I was told I was an easy child, I would never cry in the middle of the night. She said I was often so quiet she would forget about me and rush to check on me only to find me playing with my toes, quietly happy and observing my surroundings. The first time I acted out was when I was getting potty trained, my younger sister got born and it ended up taking me 3 years to potty train. You were regressing, my mother said, you wanted to stay a baby because your sister was a baby. But I think I was acting out because I thought she was betraying me. I thought a new baby meant the love she had for me was replaced. Nature vs. nurture. Was this all innate? Or did I learn this? Did the inevitable fate impact me differently than it did my brother? Or did it begin when I rejected the breast milk? And how did my mother feel, postpartum with all the emotions and having had me inside of her for 9 months only for me to come out and reject her motherly instinct? I know she tells me it was nothing, she thought nothing of it, just that she knew I was always different. I was coined as stubborn and the one who “marched to a different drum.” But truthfully, I never wanted to, I wanted to march to the same drum.
My sister has always been sure she wanted to be a mom someday. I have always been the one to avoid the thought, and then to wander around the question. She was the one who had baby dolls and would always pretend to “play mom” when we were younger. She has always idolized my mother and has shaped herself to fit her mold. I suppose my relationship with our mother has always been pinning for her love, her approval, her acceptance. She seemed like this out of reach goal that I could never meet. Maybe because of this, I have always sort of been afraid of children. I have this fear inside myself of what if my baby doesn’t love me, or even like me? What if it rejects me? I am timid around other children I don’t know too. I think growing up without any young children around has played a part but also because I am self conscious that if a random baby doesn’t cling to me, or if it just cries when it looks at me that its a sign of my motherhood abilities. That I will never be quite cut out for this sort of thing. Maybe its my deep want to be a mother that makes me paranoid and panicked. Just as my deep love for anything does, writing, New York City, Hayden… The things I want most I freeze or push away. I don’t want it all to be ruined. I remember all the opinions people have said to me about motherhood, peoples judgment on weather i would or would not be a good mother because I don’t project those qualities but keep them tucked away inside of me.
Recently, I had a conversation with my mother and father about motherhood, and parenthood. We were talking about how I don’t feel quite ready yet. I have a checklist of things I want to do before I even start thinking about it. I expressed my doubts about wanting children too. They reminded me that no one is ever really ready to have kids, no matter how many books you’ve read or how much money you have. My parents had us when they were not always finically stable. Money has always come in waves, either we have it or we don’t but we understand its cycle. They did not let that change their plans for children, instead they went with the flow, never trying to change or stop the current. They said, life will show you what you need to learn for your children. My mom said having children was the greatest thing she ever did, the most challenging and rewarding gift. But at the same time I have heard her speak about how difficult it was to give up her selfhood, to give up figuring out who she is to have children. She was 24 when she had her first baby. I understand not all journeys are the same, and we all must figure out our own path. I think she is still figuring out hers. I think we never stop. I have seen her grow and cry and experience life’s pain. Her pain has always been mine, and her tears have been mine as well. I think all children feel a sense of ownership and responsibility with their parents. Sometimes I think, do I want to put that on my children? But I know, that is thinking too far too much, and its unavoidable. I have to remember that that is life anyway, a succession of pain and suffering, it never stops, I don’t think it was ever intended to. Life and pain are synonymous. You cannot have one without the other. The way we are brought into this world, the pain the mothers feel, the screaming, the blood, the tears, is a fitting way to start off. Its a portrait of what’s to come, but amid it we witness a power that is fragile, delicate but strong enough to withstand the pain.
Despite the back and forth, when I daydream of the future I always see myself with a baby at the end of this. My mother told me being a mother was like some kind of magic, almost impossible to explain how it makes you feel, but that it shows greater meaning to everything. Perhaps the only way to deepen our love and understanding of life is to go through it and open new layers, like getting married, and having kids, otherwise aren’t we at a comfortable stand still?
Getting to read and watch motherhood from different lenses has been just that, a deepening way of living life. Watching one of my oldest friends get pregnant and see her belly grow, harden, and the baby kick is beautiful. I can not yet imagine what new meaning it will bring to life. I am humbled and thankful I got to have this experience of photographing a dear friend of mine in such a tender and transformative time in her life. E has always assumed a motherly role towards me, always protecting me and making sure everything is okay. You are going to be a great mom, E. Thank you for going with my vision. These are only the black and white on film, color chemicals are on the way so I can develop the color film and I am still working on the digitals but for now maybe you can get a sense of the beauty and magic in witnessing a woman’s body create life before our eyes.