Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Mother-in-Progress

I came to motherhood slowly. I don't mean to say that it took me a long time to decide to become a mother (it did) or that I was pregnant for an extra long period of time (it only seemed that way) but that I didn't feel like a mother once I had my cute little warm bundle of joy in my arms. At least my version of motherhood didn't quite match what I'd read it would be. I once confided to an on-line group of friends that I didn't "love" the fetus that became Oliver when I was pregnant. I was really interested by it. And I was amazed by it. But that isn't the same thing, is it? In the instant before I hit the submit button I felt sure that someone -- probably a bunch of people -- would reply and tell me that they felt the same way. Instead I got a lot of awkward cyber silence. Also, once he was born I wasn't quite sure what to think of him. Did I love him? Yes. I think so -- but I didn't really know him all that well. Oh sure, he was cute alright. And after I returned to work I couldn't wait to get home to him every night and then I was disappointed that he went to sleep so early. I doted on him and was a complete believer in attachment parenthood: co-sleeping, sling-wearing, extended breastfeeding, the works. But I would say that it took me a good 15 months before it really occurred to me that I would absolutely curl up and die if anything bad ever happened to him. So that's what I mean when I say that I came to motherhood slowly.

Now some who are reading this might think that I had trouble bonding with the little guy because I intuitively knew that there was something amiss. Or maybe that something about Oliver prevented me from connecting with him -- there's that mistaken idea that children with autism can't show affection. But Oliver was as perfect and normal as can be; there was nothing wrong with him. I just didn't instantaneously upon seeing him know that I would throw myself in front of a truck to save him. At least I was glad that wasn't part of the test because I really just didn't know. It took me about a year or so before I knew that I wouldn't even have to think about it. You see, it's not that I didn't love him or that we didn't share a bond but rather that the intensity of both things grew fantastically over the first year of his life. That's what I mean when I say that I came to motherhood slowly.

I would say that I am one of the more self-absorbed, self-referential people I know. Especially lately (As evidenced by this post in a blog about Oliver that is all about ME). And so when Oliver was first born I had a lot of trouble adjusting to the fact that I just didn't come first anymore. Not even with myself. That first year of adjustment was hard. I even had trouble finding the time to brush my teeth. And then there was my job. I am lucky enough to have an exciting, challenging, interesting job that pays great and allows me to work with a fantastic group of people. But suddenly I couldn't devote myself to my career 100%. That was the biggest challenge of new motherhood for me: finding a balance between the time and energy I spent on Oliver and on my job. And sometimes, like when I had to turn down trips to exciting, far-flug places because I was still breastfeeding, I felt a little resentful and wondered if I was really cut out to be a mother.

After Oliver, however, I went on to have Sam and that tells you that there were things about Motherhood that I wouldn't trade for all of the world. But it occurred to me the other day that until a point very recently, I always thought of them as my children. The emphasis was on their relationship to me. I began to see that I had wanted children in much the same way as I wanted other things in my life. I wanted them because I wanted my life to be a certain way. When I grow old I had hoped to be surrounded by my children and grandchildren. Having a child with a disability never really entered the equation. The revelation about Oliver's individuality came to me after his diagnosis when I really began to see him for the rather remarkable little person that he is. The revelation also brought with it an element of sadness because it came with the knowledge that I don't understand how he experiences things. I read a lot and I can guess, but I will never really know. The fact that I had, until that time, thought of Oliver as almost an extension of myself, for good or bad, speaks to the depth of our bond. This shift in my perception of him has been seismic.

One day last week I decided to quit my job after thinking about it for about, oh, five minutes. Pay, benefits, professional accomplishment -- all that I held to be so important up until August hardly factored into the decision. My son needs me more than I need all those things times ten. It isn't exactly the same as throwing myself into the path of an oncoming truck to save my son but it is something I thought to be unthinkable when I gave birth to him three years ago.

Someone I know recently told me that she thinks of herself as a mother-in-progress and it helps me to view my own journey in such a light. Because, you see, I came to motherhood slowly and at times I didn't embrace it as much as I could have. But every day now I see that I have another opportunity. And luckily Oliver, my little guy who is so much a part of me but also so very much his own person, is supremely accepting.


  1. Welcome to the world of a "stay at home mom"! It is coming up on a year that I haven't been working. It is so much better to be able to devote all my energy to my boys. I am getting to the point that I would enjoy a part time job though...more for the money than anything though.

  2. I felt the same way as you after Tobin was born. And even now with Alex. (Though it is much less.)

  3. I can relate to everything in this post. I remember wondering, how do you know if you love the baby? It's not like he's a great conversationalist; it's not like you miss him because - wait - he never goes away (at least, not in Canada, where we've got a year of mat leave). The love comes gradually, until suddenly it's hard to remember the old set of priorities.