Joan of Arc’s Got Nothin’ On Me: The Unnecessary Martyrdom of Motherhood

He had been snoozing on my chest for half an hour, his tiny face pressed up against my heart, ka-thump ka-thump, ka-thump, when I first dared to make my escape. Carefully, I hauled myself up and off the couch, placed him gingerly into the Mamaroo, and fled like lightning into the bathroom, relief pouring off of me like so many beads of sweat [that, coincidentally, were also pouring off of me because getting off the couch with no hands is an exercise in abdominal fortitude that this postpartum mama was not prepared for].

Immediately, the guilt washed over me. Guilt, for feeling so relieved when it goes so fast. Guilt, for feeling so desperate for a few minutes away from him when all I thought of those nine long months it took to get pregnant with him was holding another tiny person of my creation all day long. Guilt, for wanting those twenty minutes to do my makeup so I can feel like an actual person when we go pick Theory up from daycare [the prep for which has already begun, despite being two hours away, because babies].

The shame starts creeping in, and I wonder if maybe I should abort makeup mission [it’s selfish anyway, right?], pick up my sleeping baby, slink back to the couch, lay there bored but blameless, as he dozes on me for another hour.

How many times over the past month have I felt this way? How is it possible to feel like I’m doing some developmental disservice to a baby who is sleeping, to feel that my time couldn’t best be spent in some other way while he naps? How can I feel so guilty for not wanting to spend every moment touching him?

The truth is, I spend maybe 90 minutes a day not in physical contact with my son. He, like his sister before him, is desperately needy, squalling and tantruming unless he feels my skin against his. We co-sleep [his sister only a foot away, still also co-sleeping, because I’m a sucker], he cluster feeds nonstop all day long, I type each blog post one-handed while he gurgles and grunts from the crook of my arm.

And yet, in those 90 minutes of freedom, I feel wave after wave of overwhelming guilt. For wanting to put him down. For feeling so sickly-panicky about the million other things I need to do. For those rare occasions where I’ve left him asleep in the bassinet so I can take that poo I’ve been holding in for six hours now and he wakes immediately, crying as loud as he can while I am helpless to swoop in and rescue him [because these things take time].

The other night I decided to leave Pax with my husband and go to Target. I didn’t need anything, but aside from one other quick trip to Bullseye’s Playground and two visits to the doctor a block away, I hadn’t left the house since his birth. I was halfway through my makeup when my husband asked if they could come. I couldn’t say no; they’re my family. But suddenly the desire to go was leeched from me and the thought sprang to my head that I just needed to get away from you people for a few minutes and breathe and then the self-rebuke began because how could you think such a horrible thing about your family and don’t you know how lucky you are and how many people want this? and then all at once the noise in my head got too loud and I sat down on the couch and the tears came hot and fast and I couldn’t explain why.

I am Pax and Theory’s mom. Pax and Theory’s devoted, adoring, obsessed mom. I love being a mom so much I started a damn blog about it, am building a brand and designing products around it. But [there’s always a but]…I am also more than that. In these early days of babyhood it’s so easy for me to forget that there’s a life beyond this couch, that there’s a me buried deep under the milk letdown and weak pelvic floor and the raging mama hormones. But that me matters too. I am a student and an entrepreneur and a woman and a person all my own; I do not only exist in relation to the people I call my family: I am more than a wife, more than a mom. One day my kids will leave home and my husband and I will be in a fight and all I’ll have is me, so I have to steal away these moments with myself to nurture that determined little ember glowing away in the pit of my stomach, be still and alone to listen to that steady drumbeat hammering away inside of me that reminds me who I am, ka-thump ka-thump, ka-thump. Sometimes it’s hard to hear it over the tiny voice squealing “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” over and over again, and the desperate little wails of a chunky little love lump tucked into his mechanical dancing robot swing.

It’s also hard to fight off the waves of unease, these socially-ingrained pangs of guilt that tell me I shouldn’t need anything more than this baby snoring in my arms, this toddler pulling on my pant leg, to be happy. But I do [you do, too]. So I’ll keep fighting in the tiniest, silliest, most insignificant ways: putting the sleeping baby down, maybe even letting him cry a minute or two while I wipe my ass, stealing off to Target armed with a new baby gift card where I’ll buy something for me instead of my kids [Okay, this one isn’t very likely. Baby steps.]. It hardly seems like an act of defiance, of mama bear ferocity. But to me, it is. Another tiny victory. Another moment to pause and collect myself. To be honest, another moment where I’ll soon begin to ache for my babes and go speeding home to gather them in my arms and smother them with grateful kisses. Another moment to be alone with myself in the comparative silence of my mom-mobile, silent but for Despacito on the radio and that steady rhythm in my chest, the song of who I am beneath it all. Ka-thump ka-thump, ka-thump. I’ll keep listening if you’ll keep singing. Ka-thump ka-thump, ka-thump.

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