When I first read The Awakening, it was like the Joker confronting Batman with some poignant but unwanted truth. This dark, hidden part of me had a light shined on it in such a way that I could no longer run or hide from it. I cried for days. The women writers class I was taking had already had a significant impact on me, but when I was assigned this comparatively short work, I was unprepared for the impact it would have.
Because that damn book changed my life.
I’d carried the weight of being uncertain about motherhood for years by that point. And suddenly, here was this new idea – that perhaps I wasn’t alone in my struggle. Maybe the way I felt about motherhood and creativity was entirely justified even.
Talking with a new friend recently about his struggle with parenthood, I was reminded about the constant guilt I used to carry. My daughter and I had never really bonded, thanks to postpartum depression (nobody wanted to mention to me that sending my newborn baby back to the nursery wasn’t exactly normal). And although I’d always taken care of her and loved her in the best way I could, I was perpetually haunted by the fact that I had not done the mothering right.
Which of course is untrue. But the guilt ran even deeper when I had my son and then did have the point of reference I needed to affirm that I, in fact, was not normal. That is to say, my relationship with my daughter was not as it should have been.
Which of course meant that I was wrong or bad or fucked up in some irredeemable way.
But besides the guilt of feeling like I was failing my daughter, which was a deeply person one, there was another gorilla in the room.
I was terrified I’d be found out. What if other people knew I felt this way about my baby? What if they knew motherhood wasn’t what completed me? What if they knew that if I could do it again, I’m not sure I would?
The burden itself often isn’t as heavy as the opinions of those we love.
That fear petrified me for so long. I hid. I tried to make a failing marriage work to shield myself from having to deal with it.
But that damn book. The excited, hushed whisper in my ear that perhaps I could do things differently became too much.
Eventually, I had to give in.
Reading ruined my life.
I read Spinster recently, and it had a similar impact. What if my life revolved around anything other than kids and marriage? What if I allowed myself to lead my most creative life, on in service to the world that was still true to me? What if the best way I could serve myself and my loved ones was by creating an ecosystem where we could both thrive outside of these constructing societal norms?
What if it was normal to feel this way about parenthood? And maybe we all just needed to talk about it?
My god. What a revelation.
What if I could love my kids and accept that didn’t mean I need to be entirely self sacrificing when they have entirely capable parents who are so stable and boring and everything I’ll never be?
Everything I never want to be.
Who might I become if I let myself believe that?
So far, it’s working out.
My kids are fine. They are well-adjusted.
I’ve never been happier. My business has never worked so well for me. I’m beginning to meet the kind of people who I think might just be as fucked up as me and understand what I’m trying to say here.
May we all be so lucky.